Protection for the Global Food Network
By Johnson Diversey
The number of food products entering the U.S. market has significantly increased in recent years—and that number continues to grow. The U.S. imported 12 percent, or more than $58 billion, of its food from outside its borders in 2004. This amount rises every year. More than 90 percent of all fresh and frozen seafood consumed in the U.S. was imported in 2005. South and Central America exports to the U.S. more than 8 million, or about 20 percent, of all fruits and vegetables.
With food exportation occurring in several countries around the world, it is critical to focus on food safety at all stages of the supply chain. One weak link in the chain can result in unsafe food that can be dangerous to human health. The hazards to consumers can be very serious and the costs to food companies can be huge.
Although food safety awareness continues to increase around the globe, foodborne pathogens and illnesses such as avian influenza are a real and growing threat. Concerns stemming from these public health issues fuel the demand for greater accountability when it comes to food safety. To address food companies’ concerns, JohnsonDiversey (www.johnsondiversey.com) offers food safety training and consulting services for food exporters and suppliers to ensure safety regulations, import and export requirements and expectations for tracking and traceability are met. These services are designed to provide a level of assurance to food companies that import food from suppliers that use these training and consulting services.
Experts identify and train local trainers who pass training onto workers in the food industry in exporting countries. Consultants follow up by consulting suppliers and preparing them for auditing and certification.
Training at the source
In an effort to improve the quality of food entering the U.S., the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN) of the University of Maryland offers a food safety training program. The program was implemented by the JohnsonDiversey International Food Safety Initiative (JDIFSI). The initiative is a partnership involving three key components of food safety: science, regulation and application. JIFSAN’s approach to protecting food and avoiding importation of contaminated food is to offer training to food producers and suppliers to address contamination and food-safety problems at its source. The most effective way to protect food and avoid importation of contaminated food is to educate food providers about the best practices for safe food handling right in their own countries.
Experts conduct educational sessions on the latest knowledge and practices in food safety to local trainers in exporting countries. JIFSAN provides in-country trainers who can promulgate the lessons learned. Using the knowledge and materials provided in food protection and safe handling, trainers will go on to train agricultural and aquacultural workers, food processors, exporters, regulators and educators, among others. Programs are offered in a variety of countries and will deal with a range of important food commodities.
“JIFSAN has done a lot of training in other countries, which ensures that foods are produced safely before they are exported because personnel are trained from the ground up, and this is a most successful approach,” says Dr. Robert E. Brackett, director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
In addition to training provided through JDIFSI, expert food-safety consultants help international suppliers prepare for auditing and certification to ensure the integrity, traceability, safety and quality of food along the supply chain through the Safe Quality Food (SQF) program. This program was established by the Food Marketing Institute through a licensing agreement with JohnsonDiversey Consulting.
Under this agreement, consultants deliver training in implementing and auditing SQF systems. They also consult with suppliers on the implementation of their own SQF systems. SQF-certified suppliers will be able to demonstrate to their customers a high degree of food safety and quality assurance within their operations, which are verified by independent, third-party SQF auditors.
The training program is rigorous, flexible and complements government programs and industry initiatives. Only trainers who possess a high degree of expertise and professionalism will get licenses to train. Training customers to integrate their food safety and quality management systems to the SQF requirements provides suppliers and food companies assurance that their food has been produced, prepared and handled according to the highest possible international standards.
“It is truly a global food network, and any [action taken] in one country can affect every country,” says Dr. Brackett. “What were once other countries’ problems are now our problems, so we want to make sure that the food safety practices in those countries are the same as those we expect for our domestic food industry.”
Through international training and consulting programs, each link in the food supply chain, from producer to processor, to retail and food service can gain an advantage in the competitive food market.