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Saturday, 9 November 2013

Demystifying Food Safety Assurance

True mysteries pertain to realities more profound than the task of assuring the safety and quality of food.


Food safety quality assurance is not complicated because hazard control is complicated; the assurance of food safety is only made complicated because of various human distractions and malpractices. If the industry wakes up to this realization, it can get on with the real business of assuring food safety and succeed. A new day is here. You can now rise to the dawn of SSQA and refuse to be intimidated.

 “It Says So Right Here” Intimidation:


When you are new to the field, even to some long-time practitioners, the assurance of food safety can be intimidating. It gets worse when you run across evaluators of your system who throw “the standard” or "compliance" books at you and major on minors in a temper tantrum fashion by simply insisting: “It says so right here” without giving you a reasonable explanation of why “it says so right here”. You need to recognize all temper tantrums and deal with them methodically but never lose your focus on the long established and developed measures for assuring the safety of food as it applies to your operation.

I agree that ensuring food safety is a never-ending task as it should be. However, the task is not mystical or enigmatic. Being humanly possible, practical food safety assurance techniques have long been developed and successfully utilized in the industry. Adopted approaches in the assurance of food safety need to be scientific, methodical, pragmatic, practical and consistent. The approaches must also be efficient and effective. In all of these aspects, the industry has no shortage of expertise.


Basic methods for controlling of the usual hazards in food have been established from the days of food preservation alchemy. Many books have been written on food preservation that describe various processes including: fermentation, heat processing, refrigeration, freezing, evaporation, dehydration, irradiation, sanitation, good hygiene practices, etc. There may be the argument that, in more recent years, advances have been made in the development of newer methodologies such as gas treatments, high pressure processing (HPP), the use of ultra violet light, synthetic and natural anti-microbial preservative, etc.

A brief historical search shows that the most predominantly used methods (pasteurization, HPP and irradiation) are not completely new ideas:

Pasteurization: Nicolas Appert, the inventor of canning, and Louis Pasteur are often credited with the now old knowledge that treating food with heat could preserve it. The first commercial milk pasteurizers were reportedly produced in 1882, using a high-temperature, short-time (HTSTprocess. The idea was of course known and tested before 1882. 

HPP: Patterson, in a review published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, stated: “The idea of using high pressure in food processing is not new. The first report of high pressure being used as a food preservation method was by Hite (1899). He reported that milk ‘kept sweet for longer’ after a pressure treatment of c. 600 MPa for 1 h at room temperature. Hite et al. (1914) also reported that while pressure could be used to extend the shelf-life of fruits, it was less successful with vegetables.”
Patterson, M. F. (2005). Microbiology of pressure-treated foods. Journal of Applied Microbiology,
98, 1400–1409.

Irradiation: The published chronology of food irradiation by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency stated that, in 1905, scientists received patents for the use of ionizing radiation to kill bacteria in food.

Almost all of the presumed “new” methodologies or developments are based on the age-old knowledge that food-borne microbiological contamination causes spoilage and/or illness. Microbiological contamination is, of course, not the only hazard in food. Examples of the other hazards are listed in the U.S. FSMA-HARPC proposal (PUBLIC LAW 111–353—JAN. 4, 2011, 124 STAT. 3885 – Section 103). They include: chemical, physical, radiological, natural toxins, pesticides, drug residues, decomposition, parasites, allergens, unapproved food and color additives. Naturally occurring, unintentionally introduced, intentionally introduced, etc.

As we have seen, microbiological hazards and even the non-microbiological hazards are almost all (if not all) controlled through long established methodologies and practices. The successful control of all food hazards requires good practices (by humans) in the agricultural, primary production, secondary manufacturing and delivery operations. Such good practices are not derived only from simply knowing the rules (i.e. the regulations and the audit scheme elements) without knowing the reasons behind the rules. A good knowledge of how to mitigate all applicable hazards is essential for key company personnel who must pass the knowledge of the related good practices to all personnel at all levels through on-going training programs. 

So, with the support of SSQA-Based Programs, let’s get on with the real business of assuring food safety. There are no food safety mysteries with which we must contend if we stop being the detractors with our numerous schemes to defraud one another. We have the knowledge and the means to perform this task. We simply need the commitment along with a strong sense of our moral obligation and social responsibility.

Please join the band of passionate individuals. Join GCSE-Food & Health Protection and soar in the emerging era of productive collaboration. Together we must do everything we can to ensure our protection and satisfaction as consumers: This is the DAWN OF A NEW ERA.

Additional References:

History of Food Irradiation – U. S. Environmental Protection Agency -  http://www.epa.gov/radiation/sources/food_history.html


High pressure processing as an alternative food preservation
Technology and its applications for fruits and vegetables - http://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2097/9958/PiaAbdelKarim2011.pdf?sequence=1

Innovative Food Science and Emerging Technologies - http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/datastore/608-123.pdf

Food applications of natural antimicrobial compounds - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3441195/

Food Preservation – A Biopreservative Approach - http://globalsciencebooks.info/JournalsSup/images/Sample/FOOD_1(2)111-136.pdf

Use of pulsed ultraviolet laser light for the cold pasteurization of bovine milk - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12233862
Posted By Felix Amiri
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Felix Amiri is the current Food Industry Chair of GCSE-Food & Health Protection

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