Good Agriculture Practices (GAP), Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), and Codex Alimentarius Standards Provide Prevention to Increase Food Safety in all levels of Food Production
Global expansion of commercial purchases of food commodities and ingredients makes food safety an international concern. Developing countries have the products, but many counties do not have the capacity to implement food safety standards. International agriculture aid programs need a process to follow that allows them to pick and choose food safety issues that fit within their scope of work, and countries need a road map to follow to adopt and implement food safety processes. Each food value chain needs to develop a farm-to-plate food safety culture.
This opportunity can be met by utilizing internationally accepted food safety protocols that focus on prevention. This has become even more important since the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that “requires importers to verify that food they import into the United States is produced in compliance with the hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls and standards for produce safety” (Federal Registry 2015). With companies utilizing least cost formulation in order to stay competitive, finding a cost-effective way to food safety becomes even more imperative.
Cassava is chosen as the food commodity to illustrate the use of international standards for food safety along the food chain. Cassava is a food value chain currently in vogue. It is produced extensively in developing countries and is utilized in processed foods throughout the developed world. Production is currently being encouraged in the US. It is a novel food that can be touted as organic, vegan, and gluten-free. Cassava can be eaten as the whole root or chips, but it is mainly processed into a flour or starch form. Products produced from cassava flour include crackers, breads, puddings, tapioca pearls for beverages, and tapioca pudding (Figure 1). There are no U.S. grade standards for Cassava (USDA, 2019).
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, HACCP, can be used to identify and assess existing food safety hazards associated with growing and harvesting to processing and preparing food. Critical control points all along the food chain can be determined and controls can be created to fit the culture, local capacities, and needs of each step under examination. Good agricultural practices, GAP, provide information about basic environmental and operating conditions necessary to provide safe food and address food safety hazards.
Codex Alimentarius (WHO/FAO) has developed guidelines and specifications for international food standards. Codex has also developed HACCP guidelines for international trade. The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) is a non-government organization (NGO) of Codex Alimentarius. Many developing countries have weak and sometimes non-existent food laws. These countries could use Codex standards and guidelines for the harvesting, processing and testing of food products, to assure food safety and make international trade possible. A program based on these principles shifts the focus from quantity to quality, including food safety. Doing so allows developing countries a way to improve health and create trade opportunities to enhance the livelihoods of their citizens.
A flow chart from farm to table of each product being processed is necessary to start the food safety assessment. The production of cassava (Figure 2) is used as an example. The same process creating a flow chart can be utilized for any food value chain, in any country.
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP)
HACCP is usually considered during the processing phase, but critical control points need to be considered from farm to plate along the food chain. The seven basic HACCP principles, steps 6-12, are increased to a logical sequence of 12 steps to implement the Codex HACCP system in developing countries (Figure 3)(FAO/WHO, 2006). It is the reference standard utilized for international trade disputes (WTO, 2019). Food safety is everyone’s business, from the grower, to the processor, to the importer, and to the consumer who has the right to expect safe food.
When countries sign the WTO agreement, they concur with inclusion of Codex Alimentarius and phytosanitary standards into their products allowing for international trade. Successful trade and healthy populations depend upon safe food requirements. Including the application of Good Hygienic Practices (GHPs) at all stages of the food chain and the HACCP system is appropriate for implementing food safety procedures (FAO, 2018).
The 12 tasks in the application of HACCP, including the seven HACCP principles:
The adoption of whole chain HACCP, including primary production, allows the identification of hazards, to prevent and manage food risks from farm to table. The newspapers report large recalls of fresh fruits and vegetables that have been contaminated in the fields. Pathogens and contamination can enter the food chain from soil, sewage, compost, waste, water, humans and animals. Food safety in primary production can be a proactive system of recognizing and reducing risk factors during production and handling, whether dealing with intentional or unintentional hazards
Figure 4. The example list of potential hazards associated with production and processing of cassava, with a hazard analysis, and potential control measures to consider.
Food producers bear the brunt of safety breakdowns and the consequent costs that are associated with outbreaks of food contaminations. A benefit of HACCP is to give producers a sense of ownership in food safety and allows them to meet the expectations of buyers and processors. Individual sector HACCP plans can focus on risk assessments, procedures to manage the risks and improve food safety with multi-disciplinary teams from farm to table.
Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)
Good Agricultural Practices may reduce or eliminate food safety risks by giving methods of producing, packing, handling and storing foods to minimize food safety hazards. These codes have been considered pre-requisites to a HACCP system, but by becoming part of the individual sector assessments GAP can be actively monitored and managed for food safety risks. The objective of GAP is to ensure food safety, quality, environmental sustainability and protection of the health, safety and welfare of workers. Safe food starts at the production level with a clear understanding of the conditions and capacities availability to increase food safety and becomes the foundation for farm to table.
Each of the Standard Requirement elements of GAP are looked at for their significance in various modules. Figure 5 gives a summary of the GAP standards and their various modules.
The purpose of the food safety module is to minimize harmful effects of
production and post-production practices on the safety of the food. The hazards can be controlled with good agricultural practices.
The environmental management module deals with controlling environmental hazards during production and post-production practices. National environmental policies will help in selecting agricultural practices for controlling environmental hazards.
The workers’ health, safety and welfare module considers that farming involves many tasks, and workers are often exposed to many types of hazards. The health of farm workers
has a direct effect on the loss of production, earnings of the farm, and the safety of the food produced.
The produce quality module covers good agricultural practices to minimize harmful effects of production and production practices to address produce quality.
Many developing countries do not have good agriculture practices implemented as national policies. These international standards facilitate food safety and trade opportunities. By utilizing the FAO standard requirements, food safety capacity at the farm level can be analyzed. Food safety starts at the production level and a clear understanding of the conditions and capacity is the foundation for farm to plate.
Codex Alimentarius has the accepted and relevant standards for many foods produced. All national food laws have to accept the standards as the minimum allowed for food produced and traded internationally. If a country has not established the standard for a food commodity, the Codex Standard becomes the rule. Codex Standards and regulations establish the rules, guidelines, and characteristics for products, related processing, and production methods for safe food. Through the use of Codex Standards, governments and consumers are aware of food safety and quality issues in the food being sold and the risk of food borne health issues (FAO, 2018).
An outline of what a general product standard includes helps clarify expectations and further testing for food safety.
There are 224 Standards, 79 Guidelines and 54 Codes of Practice for food products in Codex. The standards for cassava include sweet and bitter varieties, along with many specific by-products. The Code of Practice includes one for the reduction of Hydrocyanic Acid (HNC) in Cassava and Cassava Products.
Food aid programs in developing countries are shared between different entities and have multiple priorities. It behooves everyone receiving aid to become part of the solution to creating a food safety culture within their programs. Applying safety protocols can help a country focus its efforts and funds toward a common goal of food safety across the food value chains being considered. New programs can look at gaps and determine actions for improvement. Forming public/private partnerships can further strengthen food safety. With protocols in place, industry and importers can trace the work done and make additions to strengthen the work, as needed.
Food safety experts will work with the country to determine crop value chains that need to be targeted. WHO/FAO checklists for GAP, Codex Standards, and HACCP are used to analyze the current situation, compared to the desired results. It is important that local knowledge and experience is the foundation for each country’s program. There needs to be a firm understanding of why the standards create safer foods, in addition to an analysis of the existing circumstances. When they are used together, not only can food safety hazards be identified but opportunities can be found to resolve the discrepancies and create an environment that improves the safety of crops from farm to plate.
Using the international standards, Good Agriculture Practices (GAP), Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), and Codex Alimentarius Standards throughout the food chain will provide prevention to increase food safety. Thus, the safety of cassava, and all food commodities, is better assured when these international standards are applied along the entire food chain.
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If it isn’t safe, it isn’t food (FAO)