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How We Manage Food Safety in the Food Chain

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The Food Chain Explained

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines the food chain approach to food safety as recognising the responsibility of all involved in the production, processing, trade and consumption of food, as being responsible for it being safe, healthy and nutritious. Let’s look at the stakeholders in the food chain, from primary production to the consumer, and how we can manage food safety. Read More….

While a great deal of emphasis has been placed on food safety programs in the food processing sector, what happen before raw ingredients get to the manufacturer and the handling of finished processed food after it leaves a factory are also critical to food safety.

The food safety chain includes primary producers like farmers and fishermen, then areas of food handling like packhouses and slaughterhouse operators. The next in the chain are food processors followed by transport operators, storage and distributing centres selling to wholesale and retail operations. Finally, the consumer who purchases product to consume in the home or at a food service establishment is at the end of the food safety chain. Governments provide regulatory oversight for all steps in the food chain to protect public health

Food Safety Programs

Safety in fresh fruits and vegetable growing is managed by carrying out Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and several food safety standards have been established for growers over the years, including CanadaGAP and GlobalGAP. Even though operating to these standards has been voluntary so far, certification against a standard, improves consumer confidence in a company. Certification has been used to pre-qualify companies to sell product to large retailers

Traceability in the seafood industry has been audited against a set of criteria developed by the Marine Stewardship Council MSC Chain of Custody certification program.

Meat processors are required to have a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) program in place.

Food processing plants implement Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) which include programs like sanitation, pest management, employee hygiene, sound physical plant and equipment structure, a recall and traceback program, maintenance program etc. In addition, most processors have a document HACCP or Preventive Controls program to manage food safety from the suppliers of raw materials to the moment product is shipped from the company.

Storage and distribution facilities are also required to handle food in a manner that prevents contamination by pests, allergens etc. and controls spoilage. Basic GMPs are required and a number of storage and distribution standards have been developed with certification to provide assurance to buyers that standards are being maintained.

 When food gets to retailers, basic GMPs are maintained to prevent cross contamination and preserve shelf life, for example retailing at chilled or frozen temperatures. Educating the consumer on handling of food to avoid contamination or spoilage is done by signage and media advertising.

Food safety programs have been established in the food service industry from the inspection of facilities by public health inspectors prior to opening, to the training and certification of food handlers who work in food service. The onus is on management to maintain standards to ensure consumer health is considered.

In the end, the consumer must take responsibility for ensuring food brought to the home is stored at correct temperatures, thoroughly cooked, and that cooked food is not re-contaminated after cooking. Consuming food within a reasonable time frame, observing best before dates, and reading instructions on label for storage and cooking should be observed.

Even though governments are obliged to protect public health by introducing policy and regulations at the national and international level, controlling food safety can only be effective if every partner in the food chain acts responsibly.


Instead of focusing on enforcement mechanisms to remove unsafe food from the market after damage is done, a preventive approach is recommended.

Food safety programs should be implemented based on well thought out risk assessments at each step in the chain, setting up programs to reduce the risk of food contamination.

For a more detailed review of the food safety chain please read the paper “FAO’s strategy for a food chain approach to food safety and quality” at link The ideas covered in this paper remain true to this day.

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