/Food safety a vital key element to unlock the export market

Food safety a vital key element to unlock the export market

The WHO (World Health Organisation) in 2007 estimated that 1 800 000 people die each year from diarrheal diseases, and most cases can be attributed to contaminated food or drinking water. Every day in every country, people fall ill from the food they have eaten. Dangerous microorganisms and/or toxic chemicals cause these foodborne illnesses. Even though governments throughout the world do their utmost to improve the safety and quality of food, the high number of foodborne illnesses is a major public health issue for all countries.

Food Protection is an over‐arching concept that includes the four pillars of the food system, Food Quality, Food Safety, Food Fraud, and Food Defence. Successful implementation of programs across this continuum will also contribute to Food Security. Food safety is conceived as an ‘organised system’ with the aim of meeting a regulatory objective (producing safe and suitable food) and, if relevant, other contractual objectives (complying with one or more private certification schemes). The industry refers to this as a Food Safety Management System (FSMS).

In order to meet food quality and safety requirements, agricultural businesses must identify all aspects of their activities that are decisive factors for the safety of their products. They must be able to control all hazards at all stages of product life cycle (development, production, storage, transport, marketing) in order to meet specifications (regulatory and market) and assure consumers that their food is safe. The operators must therefore be able to identify all hazards (physical, biological or chemical) that can potentially contaminate their products at different stages of production. They must also be able to assess the level of each risk (probability) according to their working conditions, procedures, and practices. Based on these analyses, the appropriate control measures, adapted to the type and level of risk, can be adopted.

The company must then make sure that these measures are effectively implemented, complied with, and regularly reviewed. Risk analysis at every stage of production and packaging is thus indispensable and must precede any preventive action. The analysis method must be one that has been tested and validated. In the agri-food sector, HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) is considered to be the most efficient and is the most widely used. Many private standards (GLOBALG.A.P. BRC, FSSC 22000 etc.) also recommend and encourage application of HACCP principles.

From farm to the fork” policy covers all sectors of the food chain, including feed production, primary production, food processing, storage, transport, and retail sale. Consumers must also recognize that they are responsible for the proper storage, handling and cooking of food. Feed manufacturers, farmers, and food operators have the primary responsibility for food safety. It is up to each actor in the food production and distribution chain to take all steps to make sure that products placed on the market are free of all risks to consumers’ health. Many of the hazards attributed to food originate in the failure to respect hygiene rules at the place of production. This can be in the field or on the packaging line, or during storage or transport. For this reason, general rules of hygiene applicable to the food industry are also valid for primary production. As a large portion of fruit and vegetables are eaten raw, hygiene is an essential requirement for the conformity of these products. Simple or cross-contamination of fruit and vegetables, either before or after harvest, can have several causes. Growing areas, soil, inputs (manure), equipment, and staff are all potential pathogen vectors. Each producer or firm should organise hygiene measures and practices that are adapted to the specific conditions of their production area, type of products, methods and techniques, and staff in order to monitor and control risks to food safety and promote the production of wholesome fruit and vegetables.

Farms, food processing and feed manufacturing companies in Zimbabwe must comply with food safety standards in order to find their products on the international export market such as the EU, UK, and Netherlands. Furthermore, demand for Zimbabwean export produce has expanded to other countries such as UAE and Japan but farmers have to comply with food safety standards. The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) recognizes several standards such as BRC, GLOBALG.A.P, FSSC 22000, and ISO 22000:2018 FSMS among others.

Surrey Group is the first company in Zimbabwe to be certified under FSSC 22000. An initiative spearheaded by the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) is currently underway to develop the ZimG.A.P as a localg.a.p. standard based on the GLOBALG.A.P. Integrated Farm Assurance Fruit and Vegetable Standard Version 5.2. The move when fully implemented will be a game changer for local smallholder farmers in the horticulture industry who find certification in international standards as a very expensive option.

 

Bolton Kudzai Kakava is a Plant Pathologist/Agronomist/Farm Assurer and can be contacted via email at boltonkudzi@gmail.com or via mobile phone +263779579803