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Monday, 30 December 2013

Where Water is Gold - A Challenge to Global Food Safety and Quality Assurance:

The shortage of clean water supply in many regions of the world poses a challenge to all of the king’s food safety sages (industry experts). The food safety problems facing the global food supply are not confined within the boundaries of countries where highly sophisticated food safety schemes and regulations can be consistently implemented or enforced. Many food safety problems exist in, and are imported from, regions of the world where these schemes are economically impossible, simply ignored or deliberately circumvented.

The issue of water shortage extends beyond its non-availability for drinking. The implications extend to difficulties in the assurance of food safety and quality. Incidentally, the underprivileged conditions leading to the shortage of water in parts of our world also lead to closely connected deprivation in other ways.

As a food safety specialist in a developed country, it is easy for me to theorize that every operation is able to consistently maintain effective and acceptable food safety measures. Many of the formalized systems for the management of food safety and quality in developed countries are based on assumptions that are clearly contrary to the realities in other parts of the world since the means for adequate management of food safety and quality are not as readily available in less developed countries. Some of these countries can only dream about the things that the developed world takes for granted such as the availability of water, utilities and amenities.

Even in developed countries, some small operators find it difficult to provide needed infrastructure and resources for the adequate management of food safety and quality. The challenges are multiplied several fold in less developed countries. As an example, without a well-formed industrial base for parts supply, the challenge of adequately maintaining operating buildings and equipment is enough to put existing operations out of business and prevent the establishment of new operations.

Even seemingly simple things pose almost insurmountable challenges where resources are scarce. The shortage of clean water in some less developed regions of the world provides a good demonstration of such challenges. It poses perennial difficulties in the maintenance of adequate sanitation practices. “Wash your hands” is a simple food hygiene instruction except where water is gold.

Situations of water shortage also exist where water is contaminated due to industrial wastes (hazardous chemicals or compounds, heavy metals, radioactive materials or nuclear wastes, etc.) Yet, operations from these regions, using dirty or contaminated water, grow, harvest and sometimes process certain food items that are imported by the so-called advanced or privileged countries. 

Also, food businesses in the less privileged regions often do not have the resources to manage highly formalized operation control systems. Many of the sophisticated food safety management standards that are the expected norm in developed countries are completely out of reach in parts of the underdeveloped and developing world. These realities present considerable challenges to the safety and quality of global food supply. What can and should importers in advanced countries do with exporters in the less developed world?

While regulatory enforcement at the import destinations is often thought of as the solution, this offers no more than simply barring imports from less effluent countries. This may work in terms of food safety and quality assurance for the importing country. However, where the countries imposing the barriers are not self sufficient in providing the barred items, this commonly applied regulatory enforcement solution leads to non-availability of a variety of certain food items. Thus regulatory prohibitions and barriers create a significant problem. Besides, the regulations and barriers are not absolutely reliable in providing complete and consistent protection for the importing countries' population.  

So, apart from regulatory barriers and standards which are unattainable by operators in less developed world, what solutions are possible in ensuring the safety, quality, sufficiency and variety of the global food supply? What food safety assurance measures are possible where water is gold?

Additional Reference
Canadian and World Issues -Adult Education Centre South: Water Crisis

Posted By Felix Amiri

Felix Amiri is the current Food Sector Chair of GCSE-Food & Health Protection

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