My January/February, 2014 “Focus on Food Safety” discussed the implications of Canada’s food inspection system moving to an outcome-based food inspection program and what food processors would have to do to validate critical control points and subsequently verify that their interventions were in compliance with established standards for the process.
These validation and verification steps take place only after the risks inherent in a product are assessed. This includes identifying and then assessing the risks that arise from the environments in which the ingredients are stored and processed, as well as the risks arising from ingredients, processing steps, packaging, storage and distribution. It also includes identifying and assessing risks that come into play when the product is prepared, and the risks that the food poses to people who normally consume it. Governments and their food safety regulatory agencies around the world have been hard at work to develop resources that can be used to identify, assess and deal with the risks all along the agri-food chain.
Canada, for example, has developed a “Reference Database for Hazard Identification” (RDHI). The best way to access the database is by entering the program title into your browser, and then follow the links to the various sections of the database. What surprised me was the disclaimer in the second paragraph that says, “The RDHI has no official sanction. This database is a guide to hazard identification and is meant for convenient reference only; HACCP teams are responsible for ensuring that any additional hazards specific to a food premise will be considered and evaluated.”
After reading this disclaimer you can’t be faulted for asking yourself if it’s worth using the database. However, I assure you that the database is a good tool to help you identify the most common hazards associated with the majority of food types and processes we encounter in Canada.
Users start with the “Search RDHI” function, or by selecting one of six categories of products: dairy, eggs, fish, fruits and vegetables, meat, unstandardized foods and other. Then, depending on your selection, you can view some or all of the following sections: Product ingredients and incoming materials; processing steps; plant layout; biological hazards; chemical hazards (including allergens and intolerance and nutritional hazards); and physical hazards.
The database is easy to navigate and, in my opinion, doesn’t require the user to have a graduate degree in microbiology and computer science. However, to get the most of this database, the user should have a thorough knowledge of the facilities, ingredients and processes that are being assessed. The database lists numerous ingredients and processing steps and then connects each to a biological, chemical and/or physical hazard. As one navigates through the database you learn what hazards (risks) will need to be considered for your specific situation. The database also provides some convenient utilities such as an associated food hazard summary page, as well as the ability to print off the results of your search. Unfortunately, data cannot be saved.
The details you discover may surprise you. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the database identifies over 300 processing steps for meat. It is apparent that considerable thought has gone into developing this tool and keeping it current.
New potential risks inherent in foods we eat are constantly being discovered and reported and there is no sign that this activity will ever end. This is a good thing, but it also presents serious and ongoing challenges for the agri-food industry. We develop plans to deal with the risks we know today, but we also must be prepared to deal with any new risks as they arise. Having a tool like the RDHI will be helpful. Check it out.
Dr. R.J. (Ron) Wasik PhD, MBA, CFS, is president of RJW Consulting Canada Ltd. Contact him at [email protected]