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1. European Food Safety System: a shared responsibility
Today’s lifestyles are vastly different from those of the past. The fast pace of modern lifestyles and the increase in single person households, one parent families and working women have lead to changes in the food preparation and consumption habits. A positive outcome of this has been rapid advances in food technology, processing and packaging techniques to help ensure the safety and wholesomeness of the food supply as more convenient food. In spite of these advances, contamination of the food supply by either naturally occurring or accidentally introduced contaminants or malpractice does occur.
Ultimately, the quality and safety of food depends on the efforts of everyone involved in the complex chain of agriculture production, processing, transport, food production and consumption. As the EU and the World Health Organisation (WHO) put it succinctly food safety is a shared responsibility from farm to fork.
Maintaining the quality and safety of food throughout the food chain requires both operating procedures to ensure the wholesomeness of food and monitoring procedures to ensure operations are carried out as intended.
1.1. EU framework and regulations
The EU food safety policy encompasses the whole of the animal and human food chain. It provides extensive legislation and outlines the responsibility of producers and suppliers in helping to ensure a safe quality of the food supply. The EU regulations are amongst the most stringent in the world.
In order to make the area of food regulation more transparent and scientific, there was an overhaul of the EU food safety framework since the late 1990s. In 1997, a new scientific advisory system for the EU was established. Eight new Scientific Committees were appointed in addition to a Scientific Steering Committee. The EFSA will be an independent body that works in close cooperation with various scientific agencies and institutions in EU member states providing independent scientific advice on all matters with a direct or indirect impact on food safety. It will cover all stages of food production and supply, from primary production right through to the supply of food to consumers. The EFSA will also carry out assessments of risks to the food chain and scientific assessment on any matter that may have a direct or indirect effect on the safety of the food supply, including matters relating to animal health, animal welfare and plant health.
1.2. Agriculture and Transport
The quality of raw materials is crucial to ensure the safety and quality of the final product. Therefore,
a systematic approach is needed from farm to fork in order to avoid contamination of foodstuffs and to identify potential hazards.
From the farm/trade, agriculture produce is transported to food processing industry. This step of the food chain is covered by legislation on quality standards:
The European Union’s legislation on the preservation of hygiene and safety of food applies to transport and storage.
The norms of the International Standards Organisation (ISO) contain a chapter on the storage and delivery of food products.
The Codex Alimentarius established in 1962 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) includes the issues of transport and storage in the overall recommendations for the preservation of food.
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Food processors rely on modern quality management systems to ensure the quality and safety of the products they produce.
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP). While traditional safety assurance programmes focused on identifying problems in the finished product, HACCP, a recent proactive technique, focuses on identifying potential problems and controlling them during the design and the production process itself. The effectiveness of these programmes is regularly assessed by independent experts.
These quality management systems used by food processors also involve working with the suppliers (individual farmers and raw material wholesalers), transporters, product wholesalers and retailers to ensure quality assurance procedures at each level.
From the manufacturer to the consumer: Protecting Food through packaging
After the product is processed, food packaging ensures that food reaches the consumer in peak condition. Packaging preserves the integrity, safety and quality of food products in transport, wholesale warehouses, and retail stores and in the home. It helps maximise the shelf life of the product while carrying important information on the label. Besides, bar codes on packaging containing the date and the location of manufacture enables processors, transporters and retailers to keep track of products for both inventory control and identification of potential hazards.