BY: Annelie Coetzee of Annelie Coetzee Consulting
An effective food safety management system is a preventive tool that enhances a food handling organization’s ability to produce safe end products and gives the assurance that the FHO has systems in place to manage food safety.
Food handling organisations are aware that the food products handled or produced can affect consumer safety. Food is deemed unsafe when it was unintentionally or intentionally contaminated with foreign bodies, pathogenic micro-organisms, harmful chemicals (which includes radiological substances) or allergens.
Rules for ensuring safe end products
Food manufacturing and handling processes have to be systematically managed. Food safety standards have been published and they dictate the “rules” for ensuring safe end products.
Broadly, safe end products are the result of the following:
• A solid foundation of PRPs (prerequisite programmes). These are applied across the food chain and is aimed at creating conditions suitable for safe food production. Good examples of PRPs include cleaning and sanitation, personal hygiene and pest control, to name a few.
• A science-based HACCP system that serves as a preventive tool to systematically identify and assess food safety hazards accidentally introduced and to enable identification of significant food safety hazards that need specific control measures.
• An intelligence driven approach to mitigate the risk of intentional contamination as a result of food fraud or malicious contamination due to ill-intent.
• A management system that provides for systematic planning to address organisational risks and opportunities related to safe end products through considering the context of the organisation, implementation of operational and organizational control, evaluation of the performance of the food safety management system (FSMS) and finally taking action to improve the system.
Implementation of the above will only be effective if the “right” culture exists within the organisation. This is often referred to as a “food safety culture”. Food safety culture relates to the beliefs or values of the organisation that directly affects the behaviours and attitudes at all levels. These behaviours or attitudes must support the organisation’s food safety performance (and not jeopardise it).
A robust food safety culture must be driven by top management and engage all those who directly or indirectly affect food safety. It is essential that food handlers understand their major role in this regard and to align their behaviours and attitudes so that food safety policies can be implemented, and food safety objectives are consistently met. Leadership should lead by example and should never allow commercial interest to jeopardise the safety of food products handled or produced. In this way, a sense of unwavering integrity is communicated from their level and over time this “right way of doing things” becomes engraved in the organization’s DNA, which becomes the environment in which food handlers’ behaviour speaks of integrity and commitment to safe end product.