Food safety standards from farm to table
Food safety is a matter of highest concern for consumers as well as all the participants in the supply chain.
Consumers do not just want access to food, but also safe food. Australia has some of the most stringent measures in place when it comes to ensuring food safety.
As more than 70 per cent of Australian produce is exported and we are dependent on foreign markets, it is crucial to ensure good food safety systems are in operation. This provides us with better market access, less restrictive trade, increases cost effectiveness and competitiveness in the global markets.
Cases of salmonella have been on the rise rapidly over the last 30 years in Australia, as shown in the graph below. This has a huge human health and economic cost such as lost workdays, and that is just one of the foodborne illnesses.
The impact of all foodborne illnesses and allergens is staggering. Ensuring food safety is crucial for consumer confidence and equally important on the farm level to the business reputation, marketing opportunities and financial health.
There has been a gradual increase in food safety recalls over the past 10 years as shown on the graph below. Any incident triggering a food safety recall can significantly disrupt the operations and mental health toll on the operators as well.
The challenge in horticulture production is the perishable nature of the crops. Due to this it is mostly not possible to take a remedial action, and most of the food safety and quality management needs to be done based on a system of preventative practices.
A Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) based system such as Freshcare is suited for the horticulture industry.
The Freshcare solution
Freshcare is the most common food safety system employed on horticultural farms in Australia. It is based on the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and the HACCP principles.
HACCP is a risk-based food safety system originally developed for the NASA space program. The core of HACCP is to identify, analyze and prevent food safety hazards.
The Freshcare scheme is aligned to Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) which means that the program is benchmarked to a global scheme and produce is recognised to be safe and high quality in the supply chain around the world, leading to better market access and higher consumer confidence in Australian produce.
Thomas Elder Consulting (TEC) have been heavily involved with the “quality” aspect of the quality assurance (QA) program. TEC is formalising a Freshcare consulting service as it is a natural extension of the current services provided.
The core of a QA program is a risk analysis and management of that risk. There are numerous sources of contamination on-farm such as:
- irrigation water
- equipment and vehicles
- packaging materials
- improper hygiene practices.
Given that TEC is involved in all parts of farm production, we are in a good position to foresee the risks that may impact the production system and compromise food safety. This offering is a perfect fit within an overall horticulture services program. Benefits include streamlining the consulting process by dealing with a single consultant, improved communication, and reducing the hassle and stress of having to deal with ever-increasing compliance requirements.
Even farm operations with dedicated on-farm QA staff would benefit from better alignment and linkage of the production operations to their QA programs. A TEC consultant can provide support to QA staff, save time in managing compliance activities and minimize resource wastage addressing avoidable corrective actions.
Freshcare audits and re-certification can now be conducted using a two-part process with virtual tools for a simpler and more flexible audit experience. Communication tools such as emails, cloud storage and video conferencing to review the documents and records, followed by a short farm visit, can assist growers to adopt auditing more readily and with greater ease.
For information about implementing Freshcare accredited practices on your farm contact the TEC team.
Article written by Roop Sandhu of Thomas Elder Consulting.
Roop Sandhu is agribusiness management consultant with food safety management system lead auditor and HACCP lead audit practitioner. Roop provides whole farm advisory services ranging from greenfield development and expansion projects, crop management and nutrition advice, soil health management plans, business management, Agtech solutions implementation and compliance related services such as Freshcare consulting.