7.4.1 Important principles in food control
There are several important principles for any food control system. We will consider four key aspects: the integrated farm-to-table concept, preventive approaches, risk analysis and transparency.
Integrated farm-to-table concept
The integrated farm-to-table concept refers to safety and quality built into food products from production through to consumption. Food control systems should address all stages of the food supply chain, including imported food. Consumers should expect protection from all hazards at all stages of the chain, i.e. ‘the farm-to-table’ continuum. This calls for a comprehensive and integrated approach in which the producer, processor, transporter, distributor, vendor, regulator and consumer all play a vital role in ensuring food safety and quality.
It is much better to prevent food hazards arising than it is to simply monitor food at the point of sale or consumption. Sampling and analysing the final product will not provide adequate protection to the consumer. The introduction of preventive measures at all stages of the food production and distribution chain, rather than only inspection and rejection at the final stage, also makes better economic sense, because unsuitable products can be identified earlier along the chain.
An important assessment tool used in the food industry is the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point system (HACCP). HACCP can be applied at all stages in the production, processing and handling of food products. It is a preventive measure designed to provide a systematic structure to the identification and control of foodborne hazards. Governments should recognise the application of a HACCP approach by the food industry as a fundamental tool for improving the safety of food.
Food control requires the analysis of risks associated with unsafe food. There are three main components of risk analysis in food safety, namely risk assessment, risk management and risk communication. At the risk assessment stage, food hazards and risks are identified and described. Risk management means weighing up the alternatives and selecting appropriate options for prevention and control of food hazards. Risk communication is the stage in which information about the risks and hazards is shared among all people involved.
Consumers need to have confidence in the safety and quality of their food and this depends, in part, on their perception of the integrity and effectiveness of food control activities. All decision making processes within the food control system should be transparent. This means that all stakeholders (that is all people who have an interest in food and food control) should be able to find out how and why decisions were taken. They should also be able to make effective contributions to the process themselves. Decisions must be explained, i.e. risk communication, so that people understand why a decision is important. In this way, consumer confidence can be kept high.