The road map from plough to plate
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CTA. 2003. The road map from plough to plate. Spore 104. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47908
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore104.pdf
What goes into people's food, whether on your own plate or your customer's 10,000 km away, has become a hot issue in health, nutrition and international trade. There's much more to food safety than additives (see Food Additives article). An introduction t
Go any day to the harbours or any other downtown area of Tema in Ghana, or Suva in Fiji, or Maputo in Mozambique, or Kingston in Jamaica, and you cannot miss the lines of ramshackle stalls on wheels serving streetfood to local workers. Whether our food is produced at the roadside, or we select from the enormous array in our local supermarket, much of it has been prepared by some other person. As consumers we must rely on the good offices of those producing our food. As producers, local vendors or exporters, betraying that consumer trust will result in business failure. The marketplace has always been the engine room driving the movement towards high quality, safe and wholesome food. The retail lobbies in the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe were responsible for improved food standards in supermarkets through the 1960s and 1970s. More recently, standards have been set at international levels. Food standards - especially those involving any sort of quarantine risk - are often policed at borders. As a result, many ACP countries are updating their food legislation in the form of Food Safety Bills. These will increase protection for local consumers, reduce the drain on domestic economies through food-related absenteeism and health care, strengthen a country's reputation as a wholesome tourist destination, and improve its international trading position. Quality control Maintaining food quality, however, is a continuum, and standards are always changing. In 1998, it became mandatory for food processors around the world to demonstrate that they had attended to issues relating to quality matters before acquisition - at the point of harvest. This was formalised through the system of quality maintenance known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) - fortunately pronounced 'hassip'. Using this system, each step in the chain between harvest and consumption is evaluated for the effect it has on ultimate quality. The step is carefully documented and cross-checked records must show compliance with predetermined limits. For the horticulturalist this may mean in the field, sometimes even before harvest. Although currently only mandatory for a limited number of products and crops, the practicality of the system is now demonstrable and is finding its way into the fresh produce industries. This is good news for farmers who go to a lot of trouble to produce top quality merchandise only to lament deterioration as a result of delays, poor post-harvest handling and indifferent processing techniques. HACCP is now a reality in many horticultural industries and will be increasingly important to primary producers around the world. The impact on farmers will be that their produce must be treated with the greatest care possible - not only during its nurture but, more importantly, during the post-harvest stage. For the smaller farmer and processor, looking at the question of quality and the HACCP chain is like working in a vacuum. But they ignore it at their peril, since it defines their opportunities to sell. Increasingly, the first indication for small exporters that their quality standards have become unacceptable is the collapse of the market, and an inability to dispose of produce. How can this be anticipated? What quality standards are required of their crops? It is clear that a priority task for farmers' organisations and other support bodies is to assist groups of producers and processors to familiarise themselves with these standards. For producers and processors, your first ports of call are the national trade and food safety bodies (since each country has specific circumstances and procedures) and the Codex Alimentarius, a collection of internationally adopted standards on food. Codex aims at protecting the health of consumers and ensuring fair trade practices in the food trade, and promoting coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organisations. Codex specifies the quality requirements not only in processed foods in all their forms but also - more recently - in fresh horticultural commodities. Codex standards offer an instant guide to the standard which is commonly achievable in competing countries and provide the framework for grower/processor specifications, an essential part of HACCP. <b>For further information</b> Codex Alimentarius - Secretariat of the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme Food and Agriculture Organization Viale delle Terme di Caracalla 00100 Rome, Italy Fax: +39 06 5705 4593 Email: Codex@fao.org Website: www.codexalimentarius.net HACCP A clear and comprehensive introduction to the principles and practice of HACCP is provided by one of its main protagonists, the United States Food and Drug Administration and the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Website: vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~com/haccpov.html For the hard task of climbing up the HACCP learning curve, for mutual support and some solidarity, try the international HACCP Alliance. - HACCP Alliance, 120 Rosenthal, College Station, TX 77843-2471, USA Fax: +1 979 862 3075 Website: haccpalliance.org Food safety in general A wonderfully clear gateway to most food safety issues is the Food Microbiology Information Centre (FMIC). More essential reading, especially with an eye on trading standards, is available from the Food Safety office of the Commission of the European Union. - FMIC, c/o Nottingham Trent University, Burton Street, Nottingham, NG1 4BU, UK Fax: +44 1636 817000 Email: Stephen.Forsythe@ntu.ac.uk Website: www.ntu.ac.uk/external/fhc/hottop.htm - EU Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection 200 rue de la Loi, BE-1000 Brussels, Belgium Website: europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/intro/index.htm