Important New Food Safety Guide

First published in Handling and Storage Solutions June 2021 Issue

In June 2021, the Cold Chain Federation is publishing the first ever complete handbook on managing food safety specifically for temperature-controlled storage and distribution. By bringing together the latest information on legal requirements, best practice recommendations for managing the key food safety risks in the cold chain and insights into likely future considerations, the guide meets the industry’s need for a holistic, comprehensive and up-to-date cold chain food safety reference guide.

Endorsed by global food safety certification leader BRCGS, Ensuring Food Safety in the Cold Chain will be made available as part of BRCGS’s online library platform, Participate, for sites and certification bodies subscribed to the BRCGS Global Standard for Storage and Distribution, as well as via the Cold Chain Federation website. The guide has also been produced with support from the Federation’s members and Primary Authority Partner as well as the Food Standards Agency.

The Federation has produced the new handbook to make it easier for its members to develop, implement and improve their food safety planning and performance. Here, Cold Chain Federation Policy Director Tom Southall explains the rationale behind the guidance and answers some of the key aspects of food safety in the cold chain which it explores:

Q: Why have the Cold Chain Federation produced this guidance?

We have produced this guide in response to feedback from our members for the requirement for a comprehensive guide on food safety focussing on the specific issues facing by businesses operating in the cold chain.

Other guidance, where it exists, tends to focus on general warehousing, but the requirements for cold chain businesses can be unique and are often overlooked. The guide aims to help businesses drive for the highest standards of food safety in their facilities and to support enforcement agencies to better understand the cold chain.

Q: How can businesses make best use of this guide?

Ensuring Food Safety in the Cold Chain has been written as a complete guide to food safety issues in the cold chain, however each of its 9 chapters can also be used individually as a reference.

This guidance has been written to support chilled and frozen food storage and road freight delivery operations and can also be used to support training and give employees at every level access to further information.

To help in this practical application, the guidance is written to indicate which parts are mandatory, good practice or best practice and can be used by our members to check their processes to ensure they meet the latest legal requirements and also adhere to the updated requirements for the BRCGS Storage and Distribution Global Standard.

Q: What is a food safety culture and how can a cold chain business create one?

The values exhibited throughout a business influence how people within it behave when faced with activities which influence food safety, this is known as food safety culture and along with demonstrating management commitment, lays down the foundations for safe food throughout a business. Demonstrating food safety culture is a requirement of the recently updated BRCGS Storage and Distribution Issue 4 standard – the most ubiquitous accreditation in the cold chain.

The benefits of a positive food safety culture in a cold chain business include better food safety outcomes; customer confidence; and reduced compliance costs. Food safety management systems are based on rules and inspections, but food safety culture is about hearts and minds.

Visible and consistent leadership from business management is critical to achieving a culture of food safety. It becomes embedded within all activity and not just the responsibility of the technical team. All staff should be trained to understand how they personally contribute to food safety and the business’ values, priorities, resources, requirements, processes and actions all need to compliment and support the business’ food safety vision.

Q: How should a food safety and quality management system be applied?

A cold chain business’ food safety and quality management system is its roadmap for the successful delivery of the business’ food safety policy.

It should cover governance by setting out the collection of rules, standards and activities which maintain and regulate the system. The system should also set out plans for internal audits; ensure that any changes to business practice are assessed for their impact on food safety; and consider the impacts on food safety of potential business continuity issues.

The system should put in place well-defined monitoring and controls for storage, transport and transfer activities including loading, unloading and product handling. But it should also look further to incorporate management of suppliers and traceability to avoid unexpected disruption, additional costs and risks to safety and security.

A critical part of any food safety and quality management system is planning for the management of incidents so that situations can be dealt with safely, with the safety and legality of the food protected.

Q: How can a cold chain business manage food safety hazards?

The three main categories for hazards are physical, chemical and biological, any of which represent a potential hazard in the cold chain. Issues on hazard and risk assessment are the third biggest cause of nonconformances raised against BRCGS S&D, so it is important for every cold chain business to make sure their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system is robust.

HACCP, originally developed to ensure that food for astronauts was safe for journeys into space, has evolved into a crucial system which sits at the heart of modern food safety. As well as conducting a hazard analysis and identifying critical control points, the HACCP should establish critical limits for each critical control point and associated monitoring requirements, corrective actions, verification procedures and record-keeping procedures.

Our new cold chain food safety guide sets out a simple, step-by-step guide to the practical application of HACCP in the cold chain.

Q: What is the right temperature for frozen and fresh produce to be stored safely?

It goes without saying that food safety in the cold chain relies upon unbroken, effective temperature management. But cold chains are complex, temperature regimes within them vary enormously, so defining the right standard for an operation can be complicated.

Temperature in the cold chain goes beyond defining storage and transport at 0-8°C for chilled or -18°C for frozen, it also has to take account of stated customer requirements, specific legislation for particular foodstuffs and the maintenance of product temperature during handling operations. The cold chain is sometimes expected to compensate for shortcomings in other supply chain stages.

The Food Standards Agency takes a precautionary approach recommending a minimum of -18°C for frozen food. The rationale for this temperature is often debated, with some experts arguing that this temperature is not usually necessary for food safety but historically adopted as accepted practice as it corresponds to 0°F. As reducing carbon becomes an increasingly high priority for our industry, I have little doubt that the time will soon come for discussion of a more scientific approach to setting and maintaining temperature in the cold chain. The new guide introduces this concept but focusses on the current requirements for temperature setting in the cold chain.

Q. What can a cold chain business do to reduce the risk of food crime?

The Elliott Review following the 2013 horsemeat crisishighlighted cold stores as a particular risk for food fraud. There is a range of food crime threats relating to food safety in the cold chain including food fraud, ideologically motivated food crime, extortion, espionage, counterfeiting, cybercrime and theft.

Putting in place a food defence management system can help to identify risks and threats, can make the food supply chain more resilient to attack, can verify that controls are in place, and can enable improvements to be made. Threat Assessment Critical Control Point (TACCP) is the systematic management of risk, following similar principles to HACCP.

The essential pre-requisites for food defence are good collaboration with customers, approval and monitoring systems for suppliers and robust traceability systems.

Q. The cold chain is in a period of change. How can businesses ensure they maintain high standards of food safety?

With the UK’s exit from the EU and as new trade arrangements are developed, we can expect changes in our global food supply chains. At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic is extending the cold chain to the consumer’s front door. Food safety compliance systems need to be resilient, agile and forward-facing to ensure that high standards are met throughout the entire food chain, from beginning to end.

The UK cold chain has long proved its excellence in keeping the nation supplied with safe frozen and chilled food. But cold chains are complex and maintaining these standards, especially in a period of change, can require a lot of time spent getting to grips and staying up to date with the range of regulations, certification schemes, and best practice innovations. We have produced our new guide Food Safety in the Cold Chain to help make that process much more straightforward.

Food Safety in the Cold Chain will be available on the Cold Chain Federation website (www.coldchainfederation.org.uk) in June, and food safety issues will be discussed in two Cold Chain Federation special food safety webinars on 6th and 7th July.

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