In the wake of last summer’s tainted meat tragedy, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada formed a working group to recommend regulatory changes to reduce the risk of similar outbreaks in the future. A food safety expert is calling on the group to focus on making food safety systems more comprehensive and on enhancing food contact surface sampling. Rick Holley, a professor in the Department of Food Science, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the Winnipeg-based University of Manitoba, is concerned that Canada may be moving toward what’s happening in the U.S. “In the U.S. over the last little while we’ve seen a movement toward more and more end product testing…When government requires end product testing, it’s seen as doing something,” he explains. “Unfortunately the results are misleading.” For one thing, he says, there’s no sampling plan that has enough power to give you an indication that the sample results that you got from doing the end product testing truly reflect the level of contamination frequency of the lot that you took the sample from. “These pathogens occur at levels of less than one per cent, so you’re looking at sampling 1,000 samples with the prospect of finding only one that has an organism in it. The odds that you’re going to find that one, are pretty small.” The other issue is that organisms may not be evenly distributed through the sample, so you could have clusters and miss them. So end product testing can be costly, time consuming and futile. One of Holley’s concerns is that having governments focus on end product testing can also compromise HACCP programs and how employees feel about them. The aim behind HACCP is that you build safety into your systems ideally eliminating the need for end product testing. Calling for end product testing after years of training an industry and staff to believe that quality safety systems work, “effectively disenfranchises the HACCP concept.” This is what’s happening in the U.S., says Holley, and it’s giving everyone the impression that government doesn’t truly believe that HACCP works. To improve food safety in Canada, Holley recommends, among other things, more investment in training and more coordination among all levels of government.
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