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HACCP Big Deal For Suppliers

Food safety standards find their way deeper nto the food


April 29, 2008
By Stacy Bradshaw


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When Mike Guerra began exploring the idea of HACCP certification for his family-owned, ready-to-serve food company, Festive Foods, vending was not one of his key motivators. Of the over 100 independent vending and mobile catering operators he supplies, none of them were demanding it. But his intentions may have been more forward-thinking than he realized.

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 The father and son team of Sam and Mike Guerra.

When Mike Guerra began exploring the idea of HACCP certification for his family-owned, ready-to-serve food company, Festive Foods, vending was not one of his key motivators. Of the over 100 independent vending and mobile catering operators he supplies, none of them were demanding it. But his intentions may have been more forward-thinking than he realized.

According the Larry Dworkin, HACCP administrator for the Packaging Association of Canada, any company that is not starting in the Hazardous Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) process will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. At a recent project meeting in Toronto, the PAC named HACCP the official protocol for ensuring packaging companies uphold the highest standards of food safety.

And they are not alone. Major Canadian suppliers such as Kraft Foods and Parmalat are demanding their ingredient and packaging suppliers have HACCP programs in place. HACCP is a preventative food safety certification program centred on proper labelling practices and efficient record keeping.

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According to Guerra, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has cracked down on inspection in all places where food is handled. But standards have so far been reserved for the big players. Right now, all the ingredients, preparation and expiration dates are printed on Festive’s labels; they meet regulations and are actually “exceeding expectations” of the vending and mobile catering industries. Operators aren’t demanding HACCP, nor is it mandatory for all retail food suppliers  – so why all the hype?

“To get into the big chains, you need HACCP,” explained Guerra. Major retail food outlets won’t take a second look at a supplier without HACCP certification. The HACCP protocol is becoming the international standard, according the Alan Robinson, CEO, PAC.

Without HACCP standards, “we may find custom officials are refusing entry of our food into their country,” said Robinson. International standards are imperative for major suppliers, but for those in the Canadian vending industry, the protocol is still a rather progressive idea.

So while Guerra is staying ahead of the loop by even considering certification, both he and his father, Sam, a 30-year veteran of the industry, are left aggravated by the apparent lack of concern for food safety by some companies in their industries.

“Some (mobile truck operators) are wrapping their own sandwiches and getting away with it,” he said. It is “prehistoric,” against regulation, and downright unfair, said Guerra, who figures such practices cost Festive Foods millions in potential sales.

“Our products are insured … if someone gets sick, we have liability … we will back our product.” With the federal government increasing their commitment to enhance food safety standards and keeping processors and suppliers like Festive on their toes, selling a product that was never intended or packaged for resale is risky business.

“It’s only a matter of time,” said Guerra, until more stringent laws will be enforced.

Randy Bismonte, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada told attendees at the PAC/HACCP project meeting that consumers are demanding higher food standard quality, and HACCP is a priority for Health Canada because it’s about protecting those consumers. Every segment of the food industry is responsible for managing the risks to the end-user, he said. There are several customers and many transactions that take place before the food arrives in the end-user’s hands: there are packaging suppliers who purchase from raw material suppliers; distribution service suppliers; and food processors who, in turn, purchase from packaging suppliers.

Clearly, this is a cultural topic, said Roger Miller, meeting facilitator. “The behaviour of an operator putting a box together in a plant can influence the hamburger you will make at home.”

And it’s when everyone in the foodservice industry makes that link – to their own kitchen table; to their own children’s food allergies – that preventative measures will become a priority. The PAC is advocating a culture of food safety. They are in the packaging business, but they’re also in the food business, said Paul Mederios, Guelph Food Technology Centre.

“When you realize that, hand washing and hairnets take on a whole new meaning.”“Consider improper labelling from say, a cup manufacturer,” proposed Miller. “If a box of cups is given the wrong label, say a ‘nut-free’ label on a box that isn’t, it’s a priority to be able to say that the label surely represents what’s inside.”

HACCP’s stringent record keeping and labelling processes are said to minimize the risk of potential food related illnesses. One of the cornerstones of HACCP is that it is preventative, not reactive, said Miller.  It forces suppliers to predict where a failure point may be and take action so they never have to reach that failure point.

Because Festive Foods is an apparent “Jack of all Trades,” as a food wholesaler, packager, and vending and mobile truck operator, food safety and minimizing the risk of food-borne illnesses are priorities that the company takes very seriously. And with HACCP taking steps to make the certification process more manageable for smaller companies, Guerra is hopeful Festive Foods will reach that goal.

In the meantime, he remains dedicated to ensuring food-handling procedures and labels on Festive Foods’ products are up to code and meet the expectations of his clients. And as Health Canada continues to heighten standards and place a higher value on enforcement, Guerra can rest easy knowing that Festive Foods is adequately prepared. But in the long run, as this international culture of food safety continues to assimilate the food industry, he will definitely be happy he’s got HACCP certification in his back pocket. o