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Coffee write: setting standards

There’s a movement to bring new standards to coffee, but is it necessary?

June 12, 2013
By Brian Martell


June 12, 2013, Canada – Brian Martell discusses the movement towards standardizing coffee, while giving some background on the matter.

June 12, 2013 – When raising the bar in the coffee world, we
usually mean coming out with better packaging options, new brewing
methods, or marketing initiatives that wow the industry.

However, the standards for coffee (and food in general) are becoming far more demanding than ones we are used to.
A near five decades ago, the food manufacturing industry started a systematic approach to enhancing food safety through the development of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), initially for NASA during the Gemini and Apollo programs.

By 1994, HACCP was the standard used in Canada and the U.S. for the food safety programs in meat, poultry and fish production. Later, HACCP became part of International Standards Organization (ISO) under ISO 22000.
The seven principles surrounding HACCP have to do with food safety and not food quality, which is addressed by other third party audited systems and programs. Other initiatives such as, Safe Quality Food Institute (SQF) and Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) have food safety components, but are more inclined to food quality, management practices and supply chain continuation.


Third party food safety and quality programs are becoming prerequisites in dealing with wholesalers and retailers alike. It allows purchasing departments to download the requirements onto these programs, which usually audit food manufacturers annually and issue certificates attesting to their compliance (or non-compliance) with the standards. This can be seen as a more efficient way of ensuring food safety and vendor selection; although many who are in the coffee industry would argue that the inherent nature of coffee roasting puts the product at a very low food safety risk to begin with.

In the last decade, there have been numerous recalls and food safety incidents arising out of HACCP-certified plants, particularly in meat, while in the last five centuries no one has gotten sick or been killed from drinking coffee out of non-certified plants. However, a quick Google search reveals that people who are getting sick from drinking coffee has to do with tainted water and not the coffee itself.
Knowing that coffee is a low-risk item, why the hype to get HACCP-, SQF-, GFSI-, ISO-certified? The answer lies in many different directions.

The primary notion of food safety does not have the same gravity for coffee as it does for beef or pork, but the standards do instill a more disciplined approach to safety systems beneficial to all food manufacturers. By holding certificates of accreditation audited by third parties, it gives purchasers and those further along the supply chain an instantaneous understanding of what the food processing plant has in place regarding safety, quality and supply sustainability. The mantra of these standards is, “food safety from farm to fork” and while coffee is grown on plantations and nobody drinks with a fork (not successfully anyway) eventually all items that we put in our mouths, inhale or rub on our skin will become part of this great wave of standardization.

Consequentially, costs will rise initially (although they may come down in the long run) and marginal producers who cannot or will not comply may no longer be able to compete effectively. All in all, standardization will have a positive effect on our industry and on consumer confidence, even if it is already quite high for coffee. Regardless of some in our industry’s resistance, we are reminded of the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a changin’.’”

Comments, questions, feedback, start a dialogue? Please e-mail Brian at

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