Ensuring Food Safety and Standards: The Vital Role of Food Processing
Food safety is a critical aspect of our daily lives that affects each and every one of us. From the moment we select ingredients to the meals we enjoy, it is essential that we have confidence in the safety and quality of the food we consume. This assurance is made possible through the implementation of robust safety measures and adherence to stringent food standards, particularly in the realm of food processing. In commemoration of the 2023 Food Safety month, we explore the importance of food safety standards in food processing, highlighting the efforts by the Alliance for Inclusive and Nutritious Food Processing (AINFP) program in promoting a safer and healthier food supply chain.
Food processing plays a vital role in transforming raw ingredients into various food products. During this intricate process, there are potential risks that must be managed to ensure the safety and integrity of the final products. Foodborne illnesses, contamination, and spoilage are just a few of the hazards that can arise if proper food safety practices are not in place. By implementing stringent protocols, such as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), food processors can identify and address potential hazards at critical stages of production, ensuring that food is suitable for consumption.
Maintaining high food safety standards in food processing is essential for building consumer confidence and safeguarding public health. Consumers rely on food processors to deliver safe products that meet established quality benchmarks. When manufacturers uphold these standards, they contribute to the prevention of foodborne illnesses, protecting consumers from potential harm especially with the heightened need for food safety in a post-covid world, which also ensures sustained health and production to fuel a recovering economy.
Food standards provide a framework for ensuring the safety, quality, and nutritional value of food products. They establish guidelines for production, labeling, packaging, and distribution, enabling consumers to make informed choices about the foods they consume. Food standards also facilitate international trade by harmonizing regulations and creating a level playing field for businesses across borders.
The Alliance for Inclusive and Nutritious Food Processing (AINFP)
AINFP is a global partnership between USAID, TechnoServe and Partners in Food Solutions with a primary objective of addressing malnutrition and improving food safety by enhancing the capacity of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in low- and middle-income countries. AINFP works with food processors in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia to create a more competitive food-processing sector.
AINFP recognizes that SMEs face unique challenges in meeting food safety and standards requirements due to limited resources and technical knowledge. To address these barriers, the alliance supports SMEs by providing training, technical assistance, and access to resources. By building the capacity of these enterprises, AINFP empowers them to adopt best practices, improve their product quality, and comply with international food safety standards.
Among its suite of interventions, the AINFP program offers food safety training and on-the-ground support to food processors across the region. Food safety is a significant requirement for increasing the competitiveness of food processing businesses, expanding trade opportunities, and mitigating the health consequences of unsafe food. Illness due to unsafe or contaminated food is the most widespread global health problem and a key limitation to socio-economic development. Each year, contaminated or unsafe food causes 600 million cases of illness and 420,000 deaths worldwide. The highest burden of foodborne disease is reported in Africa. Interest in food safety is growing, with recent crackdowns on aflatoxin contamination and the heightened awareness of hygiene during the Covid pandemic.
AINFP has assisted clients in the following areas to improve food standards:
- Good manufacturing practices (GMPs)
GMPs introduce the aspect of quality assurance that ensures that products are consistently produced and controlled to the quality standards appropriate for their intended use and as required by the product specification. GMP also covers legal components with responsibilities for distribution, contract manufacturing and testing, and responses to product defects and complaints.
AINFP intervention involves the drawing up and implementation of GMP with food processors. This support is conducted by our team of Food Processing Specialists across the region and is a critical step in preparing the processors for international and local certification with Government agencies.
- ISO Certification
The AINFP Program supports food processors in achieving the seal of approval, ISO certification, to further set their businesses apart by showing key stakeholders that they have a well-run business that has structure, is stable and ready for growth. The international standards prove food processors are committed to achieving their objectives and increasing their credibility and customer confidence. Some of the outcomes from supporting food processors gain and maintain ISO certifications are:
- In Tanzania, Shambani milk was supported with audits and was recently awarded ISO 2200 certification.
- In Zambia, Seba Foods – Producing Corn Soy blend products, Textured Soy Protein and Tobwa). The Client was certified for ISO 22000 last year (2022).
- In Kenya, three clients are in the process of getting their certification. Aspendos, Bdelo and Beecare
- Food Safety and HACCP Training
AINFP Food Safety Champions conventions are part of the mitigating solutions offered by the program in tackling food safety. Key topics are tackled through the training in areas such as Aflatoxin mitigation, Pest control and pesticide residues and reducing contaminants through HACCP. Over the course of 5 years, the program has successfully trained 2,550 participants in the module based food safety course which also lays emphasis in behavioral change for food processors in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Ethiopia, and Malawi.
AINFP recently launched the digitized version of the food safety training. The online course is aimed at offering wider access to valuable food safety modules and resources for staff across the food value chain. So far the digital training has far reaching results and the team continues to champion for both in-house and online training across the industry.
- Laboratory assistance
A key issue that processors on the AINFP Program faced was accessing laboratory services to test their products for aflatoxin etc. Through program intervention we have been able to:
- Introduce clients in Kenya (Bdelo, Delish and Nutri, Full spoon) to InterField Labs and Polucon to conduct various tests.
- In-country team in Ethiopia collaborated with the National Laboratory (Ethiopian Conformity Assessment Enterprise): Relating to the testing activities like fortified wheat flour and edible oil, enriched food products, fortified Fruit Jam products, Dairy products. In addition to this, the team with Medallion Labs related to Develop and implement Fruit jam fortification for the overall portfolio of TheDay, a processor in Ethiopia.
- Support the National Food Laboratory (NFL) & Zambia Bureau of Standards (ZABS) laboratories to build their capacity in method validation, troubleshooting of equipment and accreditation of test methods. Clients have been linked with two laboratories, and matched them to offer ideal services per processing company. Clients benefiting from the linkage are Missoil, Yumi Milling, Legacy, Seba Foods, Fisenge Dairy, COMACO & Dairy King.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
During our intervention and food safety analysis of clients, a key aspect we really emphasize on the proper use of PPE. The PPE not only protects the food being handled but also protects the one handling the food from injury. In some cases clients receive funding or grants on the same;
- Fisenge Dairy in Zambia received funding from USADF and ZATP for purchase of a semi-automated milk pasteurization line and fermentation tanks respectively to minimize human handling of the final product.
- Yumi Milling in Zambia received funding from Musika for purchase of the instant semi-automated CSB line which minimizes the human handling of the final product.
- Across the region, selected food processors received a VISA-CFAI Covid resilient fund that included ensuring their teams had the right protective wear.
- SmallHolder Farmer Engagement
AINFP clients have engaged with small holder farmers to ensure that the raw materials they are supplied with, meet the highest level of quality and food safety standards. This has been attained through training and provision of farm input to farmers across different value chains.
- In Tanzania, Asili Dairy, has established milk collection centers near farmers in the villages that carry out milk testing on delivery. Grain and oil processing companies (Meds Foods, Sunkist, AA Nafaka) have contracts with farmers on maize, spices, wheat and sunflower which streamlines production quality.
- In Malawi, dairy companies (Suncrest, Capital dairy, Mach milk) provide training to farmers on milk handling, materials and equipment used for milk storage. Jescal enterprises provides informal training on groundnut good crop husbandry practices. Chibuku and Pyxus Agriculture provide informal training to their suppliers. All these training and interactions have resulted in better quality and safe to consume raw materials.
- In Zambia, Seba Foods, COMACO, Kalomo Grains, ECL, Yumi Milling, Missoil, Fisenge Dairy, Shais Foods, Bwando Farms support smallholder farmers in providing training in best practices for good quality raw material supply and provide farming inputs (e.g seed, fertilizer, stockfeed, vaccines & medications).
- Collaboration with local agencies
To enhance knowledge transfer and sustainability of food safety practices in the industry, the importance of involving the local governmental agencies has been evident:
- In Tanzania we have signed an MoU with SMIDA (Zanzibar Small and Medium Industries Development Agency) in supporting foundational food processors lead with safe food processing practices.
- In Malawi we established a working relationship with the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Institute (SMEDI).
- In Ethiopia we also established a working relationship with the Food industry development research institute, Ethiopian Food and Drug Authority and the Ethiopian Standard Agency.
- In Zambia we work hand in hand with the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) who offer linkage to Food Processors in the program facing Food Safety challenges in their processes and SWT participants. A collaboration with Zambia Agribusiness Trade Project (ZATP) also supports Food Processors facing Food Safety challenges e.g Fisenge Dairy.
Food safety and standards are paramount in the world of food processing. They ensure that the products we consume are safe, nutritious, and of high quality. The AINFP program plays a crucial role in advancing food safety practices, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises in low-and middle-income countries. By supporting these enterprises, AINFP contributes to the overall improvement of food safety, promoting public health, and enhancing consumer confidence.
As consumers, it is our responsibility to be aware of the importance of food safety and to support initiatives that strive for a safer and more inclusive food processing industry. By doing so, we can contribute to a healthier and more sustainable food system that benefits us all.