Food Safety Auditing
A NATIONAL APPROACH TO FOOD SAFETY CERTIFICATION
The substantial export potential of Australian food products into the Asian region rests on the reputation, and indeed the reality, of Australian food products being of high quality, being produced in a clean environment, and above all being safe. That reputation is underpinned by a comprehensive and rigorous food regulatory system and private and proprietary food safety and quality standards.
In addition to compulsory food safety regulations a large number of private (proprietary and commercial) standards have been developed which incorporate requirements for safe food production as well as additional requirements which relate to other aspects of quality or methods of production. Retailers, quick service restaurants, food service companies and major manufacturers commission many audits of their suppliers for compliance with these private standards. These are in addition to enforcement agencies conducting food safety audits. There is appreciable overlap with companies being audited against similar but different private standards, multiple times over short time periods representing a significant cost and resource burden on companies. The net result is an approach to food safety audit and certification across the industry which is given to replication and inefficiency.
In July 2016, following extensive consultation with the wider food industry (retailers, quick service restaurants, food service companies, certification bodies and manufacturers), the AFGC initiated a project to pilot National Approach to Food Safety Certification (NAFSC) in the baked goods sector. The aim of this project is to reduce the burden on industry resulting from multiple food safety audits against multiple food safety standards and schemes.
This project is a partnership between Food Innovation Australia Ltd (FIAL) and the AFGC with support from a number of State jurisdictions. The outputs will be made available for the benefit of the whole of Australian food value chain. The project is being overseen by a Management Committee made up of representatives from a range of stakeholders including retailers, food industry and certification bodies.
A Baked Goods Reference Group has also been established with representatives from large companies and SME’s (small to medium enterprises) across a range of baked goods product types. While the baked goods category is the initial focus of the project it is expected to be followed by other categories in subsequent projects.
The proposed NAFSC for the baked goods sector will comprise the following elements (as shown in Figure 1):
- Certification to a GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) Benchmark Scheme; and
- Assessment against Category Guidance for nominated food safety elements.
Figure 1: Proposed National Approach to Food Safety Certification
Core to the success of the NAFSC will be recognition of equivalence of audit outcome of the GFSI Benchmark Standards by key industry players across the Australian food supply chain. This will pave the way to allowing manufacturers to be audited against a single standard (rather than many) with audit reports being accepted by downstream customers. The suitable base scheme standards currently proposed are:
- British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Standard for Food Safety; OR
- International Featured Standards (IFS); OR
- Safe Quality Food (SQF) Standard; OR
- Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) 22000.
Further guidance is being prepared in the key areas of allergen management and labelling and foreign matter control. Failures in these two areas were responsible for several Australian food recalls in 2016 and are the highest contributors to consumer and customer complaints to retailers and manufacturers. Guidance on these two food safety elements will be trialled with the Baked Goods Reference Group early in 2017.
It is anticipated that current industry guidance will form the basis for guidance on Allergen Management and Labelling:
- The AFGC Food Industry Guide to Allergen Management and Labelling; and
- The VITAL® Best Practice Labelling Guide.
The AFGC Food Industry Guide to Allergen Management and Labelling will be updated as part of this project.
The National Approach to Food Safety Certification is consistent with the Harmonised Australian Retailers Fresh Produce Scheme (HARPS) for fresh produce developed by Horticulture Innovation Australia. HARPS was launched in October 2016. Click here for further information.
The aim of both schemes is to reduce the considerable costs resulting from the adoption, maintenance and auditing of multiple systems by individual suppliers and manufacturers whilst retaining the focus, importance and value that audits provide in the production of safe, high quality products for consumers.
Dr Geoffrey Annison PhD, Deputy Chief Executive & Director, Health, Nutrition & Scientific Affairs