Core Guiding Principles of a Food Control System Series: Part 6
The Food Safety Network (FSN) is releasing an eight-part blog series on different technical topics from the Food Safety Distance Learning Module, focusing on the core guiding principles of a food control system. These principles were selected based upon the internationally accepted guidance of Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) and founded upon the work of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
From farm to table, national food control systems exist to protect the health of consumers from food hazards that exist throughout the life cycle of food products. However, as the demand for and complexity of agricultural production continues to grow, domestic food safety is becoming increasingly challenging. With every country at a different stage of economic development and with differing priorities related to food safety, the process for enhancing or modernizing one’s food safety system looks vastly different around the globe. Throughout the development process, many of the actions taken and decisions being made are with consideration given to the formative work of the WHO, FAO and Codex.
In this final part of our eight-part series, we will explore the final two of the 16 core guiding principles of a food control system: legal foundation and resources.
The government should have in place fundamental legal structures to enable the establishment of food laws and competent authorities, so that they can develop, establish, implement, maintain and enforce a national food control system. The competent authority should engage with stakeholders, including food business operators and consumers, in developing new legislation and making regulatory changes. By giving all stakeholders a platform and a voice to share their thoughts and feedback, the government will receive valuable insight from different sectors and industries, while also securing support for the prospective changes.
Legal authority should frame the structure of the control system, clarify roles and responsibilities, and provide the competent authority with a range of powers and mechanisms, including authority to:
- Establish flexible performance standards and options to control foodborne hazards.
- Monitor and enforce standards, including taking corrective actions when food or food business operators are not meeting their obligations or a product or process is not in conformity with legal standards.
- Remove unsafe food from distribution.
- Perform inspections, audits and investigations to verify compliance.
- Ensure the integrity and impartiality of inspection and regulatory officials.
- Take corrective action when food business operators are not meeting their obligations or a product or process is not in conformity.
The competent authority will need to “referee” among competing interests and strongly held viewpoints to develop a legal structure that will support the goals and objectives and assure that the government can effectively enforce the risk-based standards it has put in place.
Inadequate resources are a challenge for food safety regulators worldwide. A national food control system should have sufficient resources to enable it to meet the system’s objectives. Resources should prioritize public health and support infrastructure to assure the system operates as designed, including:
- Reliable scientific and technology systems that undergird the regulatory program and provide ongoing information.
- Competent and trained inspection personnel, who are provided essential equipment.
- Scientific and laboratory capacity, including competent and trained personnel, essential equipment and transportation of samples to laboratories.
- Competent authorities should use laboratories that are accredited under officially recognized programs to ensure that adequate quality controls are in place to provide for the reliability of test results.
- Internationally recognized and validated analytical methods (such as by AOAC International, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Dairy Federation (IDF)) should be used, when available, and good laboratory practices adhered to. Authorized or certified laboratories should participate in regular proficiency testing.
Audit and verification services.
Communication capabilities focused on providing timely information to stakeholders, consumers and government officials.
Training and education programs help ensure that regulatory officials competently, fairly and consistently enforce laws and regulations.
- Government employees should also be encouraged to develop or access training and education programs relevant to their activities and responsibilities, including formal education or academic studies, as well as industry or individual training.
- Countries should consider establishing public-private entities to develop core curriculum, training and outreach programs to assist stakeholders.
A strong legal foundation and sufficient human and financial resources are necessary for enforcement of food safety standards and for ongoing assessment to ensure the food safety system continues to operate as designed and to identify areas where improvement and modernization can occur.
Consideration of these final two guiding principles is just the beginning when working through the development process. Want to learn more about concepts within food safety? Check out our free, self-paced online Food Safety Distance Learning Module, which explores the history of the United States food safety system, the value of a modern food safety system, all of the core principles of a national food control system and concludes with a case study that allows learners to walk through a fictional country’s journey to modernize their food safety system. Visit spscourses.com today to sign up for a free account and access this module and so much more! Visit the FSN home page to learn more.