The two-day event, hosted by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, included discussions on third-party certification criteria from the public policy perspective, and delegates evaluated how globally recognized expert firms could benchmark audit schemes, accredit certification firms and certify auditors.
US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements and other considerations raised by organizations such as the US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service and the World Trade Organization (WTO) were also addressed.
“The sooner we can harmonise global audit criteria, the sooner we can leverage third party audits to the maximum benefit of the consumer,” said Dr Robert Brackett, GMA senior vice president.
The goals of a third party quality assurance food safety audit are to determine compliance with buyer mandated food safety and food quality criteria, identify strengths and weaknesses in suppliers’ quality assurance and food safety programmes, and help bring about consistent quality and safety of products.
American consumer have been questioning the safety of the food supply chain in the wake of recent meat, produce and processed food recalls in the US, and the GMA said that bolstering consumer confidence is the responsibility of every stakeholder in the chain.
However, maintaining up-to-date knowledge on industry guidelines and developing a strong quality processing system add to the pressures faced by food processors in the current economic climate, claim US food safety consultants.
The global sourcing of ingredients and products along with recent factory recalls has led to increased calls from consumers for more rigorous safety programmes and close monitoring of suppliers. Debra Harrison, chief consultant at Harrison Consulting, told FoodProductionDaily.com that keeping up with guidelines, especially for globally based companies, can be very time consuming and with companies running leaner and budgets tighter, the drive to cut costs while ensuring safety is difficult. The group said that it offers assistance to US and European food processors of all sizes that need to become familiar with industry guidelines or that need an on-site technical expert for a season. "Many growers and processors find programmes required by industry guidelines and customer requirements overwhelming. We specialize in working with them to set up systems that will be easy to use while meeting consumer and industry expectations," claims Harrison. Rules not always easy fit
Meanwhile, consumer rights group Food and Water Watch warned that the consolidation of food safety systems into a form of 'one-size-fits-all' regulation may undermine hygienic manufacturing. Wenonah Hauter, group executive director, said that the current global safety regulations, while well intentioned, are best suited to the needs of large industrialised producers at the expense of smaller groups. The group expressed particular concerns over origin labelling and hygiene policies that it claims are creating a food safety divide between more industrialised manufacturers and smaller businesses. Despite these claims, health authorities in both the US and Europe believe the system is sufficiently flexible and yet concise enough to ensure that all manufacturers using the policies are meeting their commitments. The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is responsible for assessing risk within the country's food industry, said that the HACCP regulations are designed to be flexible depending on the size of individual manufacturers to ensure no discrepancy in protection.