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Improving Food Safety in Developing Nations

Despite numerous improvements in the production and handling of food, safety concerns continue. Not only are the types of foodborne diseases constantly changing and new foodborne infections being discovered, the increasingly global marketplace has added new challenges to food safety.

More foods – such as fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood and processed foods – are imported today than ever before. In the United States, U.S. food imports grew from $41 billion in 1998 to $71 billion in 2007, according to the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS).

Disease outbreaks on the rise

The number of foodborne disease outbreaks resulting from imported foods may be on the rise. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne disease outbreaks caused by imported food appeared to rise in 2009 and 2010, according to findings from the CDC’s review of outbreaks reported to its Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System from 2005-2010 for implicated foods that were imported into the United States. During that five-year period, 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses were linked to imported food from 15 countries. Of those outbreaks, nearly half occurred in 2009 and 2010. Fish were the most common source of implicated imported foodborne disease outbreaks, followed by spices. Nearly 45 percent of the imported foods causing outbreaks came from Asia.

Steps taken towards prevention

Needless to say, it can be difficult to verify and monitor food safety standards in other countries, especially in developing countries. Nonetheless, businesses and consumers want and need the confidence that foods meet high levels of safety in order to diminish and prevent foodborne illnesses.

That’s a primary goal of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), a nonprofit created under Belgian law in May 2000 and managed by The Consumer Goods Forum. GFSI measures existing food standards against food safety criteria, fosters information exchange in the supply chain, builds consumer awareness and reviews existing good retail practices. It’s “GFSI Guidance Document” of which the most recent version was released in January 2011, defines the processes, such as implementing specific requirements defined by the GFSI, by which various commercial food safety programs (or schemes) may gain recognition by GFSI.

In June 2007, eight major food retailers agreed to GFSI benchmark food safety schemes, and each of these is now aligned with common criteria defined by food safety experts from the food business, with the objective of making food production and manufacture as safe as possible. In addition to the original retailers Carrefour, Tesco, ICA, Metro, Migros, Ahold, Walmart and Delhaize who agreed to reduce duplication in the supply chain through the common acceptance of any of the GFSI benchmarked schemes, many other food service, retail and manufacturing companies have now joined this approach, according to the GFSI.

Solutions for small businesses

In part because implementing GFSI requirements and becoming certified can be a large upfront investment – something food producers in developing countries don’t always have – the GFSI in mid 2011 announced the Global Markets Capacity Building Program. Creation of the step-by-step program began in 2008 after the GSFI identified a need for technical assistance and support for small and/or less developed businesses in the development of their food safety management systems.

In a prepared statement, Jan Kranghand, former Chairman of the Technical Working Group and current Head of Quality Assurance at METRO Jinjiang Cash & Carry, China, said the goal “is to ensure that through the adoption of this program, businesses can progress over time in a harmonized, systematic way towards obtaining certification against one of the GFSI recognized schemes.”

The GFSI Global Markets Primary Production Technical Working Sub-Group is currently drafting basic and intermediate level requirements for primary production (scope of crops, fruit and vegetables). Both the basic and intermediate levels are currently being trialed in projects around the world and the program will be released by the end of the year, according to the GFSI. The GFSI’s overall efforts are having an impact. A recent study conducted by the University of Arkansas and commissioned by Walmart shows that food manufacturers required to achieve certification on one of GFSI’s internationally recognized benchmarked schemes strengthen their food safety programs resulting in safer food for consumers.

The study found that those suppliers implementing a GFSI benchmarked scheme had a more thoroughly documented food safety management system, felt the safety of their products was improved, and that employees were better trained.

Jim Cook
Consumer Testing Services
Food Safety Technologist
SGS North America, Inc.
t: +1 973 461-1493

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