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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, October/November 2005

A Perfect Blend

Can ISO and HACCP be mixed successfully in the meat and poultry industries?

by Lydia Guillot

Since the Jack-in-the-Box incident in 1993, where high levels of E. coli were found in undercooked hamburgers, the buzzwords at FSIS have been HACCP and pathogen reduction. E. coli O157:H7 was the culprit, and the pathogen reduction portion of the “Final Rule” was designed to reduce or eliminate the potential hazard to the public that was posed by E. coli and other pathogens, including Salmonella and Listeria. HACCP in the USDA setting has been useful from a microbiological setting in identifying certain hazards. There are other incidents that are considered quality issues that also fall under HACCP umbrella.

Why are these items not given the weight that other categories are given, even if they are still considered HACCP? The question remains whether those items are not as important in food safety, and if not, should they be transferred to some other entity, such as ISO? Reason would dictate the need to separate those traditionally called HACCP issues into food safety and food quality, the former being true HACCP and the later being under some instrument as those standards dictated by a ISO 9000 and above.

What is the difference between HACCP and ISO? This difference is essential to understanding where food industry issues should be considered. Simply put, HACCP is a food safety system, ISO a quality system.

FAO and WHO have accepted HACCP standards for international consideration. HACCP has been widely used in Europe since 1993 as a system for food safety in the production of food. Globally, Codex has made recommendations that all participating countries implement and use HACCP as the major food safety system.

It is interesting to note that while ISO is not specifically recommended, those countries that have implemented ISO are considered to be at the forefront of food quality and safety. The use of HACCP is recommended in order to improve food safety and prevent returns and recall of products that are exported globally.

What is ISO? ISO is a non-governmental organization that is unique in that while it is independent of governments, its members do play some role there. ISO is completely separate from governments, yet many governments adopt ISO standards as part of their regulatory framework. This is probably good public relations from the standpoint of international relations and promoting ones trading with other countries.

ISO originated in 1906 with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and later was titled the International Federation of National Standardization Association. ISO has been especially useful with consumers, being involved with many processes and techniques that are designed to improve quality of process and product. ISO has also been helpful to governments, trade officials, developing councils, consumers, and for protecting environmental conditions globally.

ISO remains involved with the IEC, and has been involved with such global organizations as International Telecommunication Union (ITU), WHO, FAO, WTO, as well as World Standards Service Network (WSSN), in a rather elaborate and eloquent system of setting and maintaining standards. Standards are set in the following manner:

  1. Experts on the various technical committees develop standards. Laboratories and consumer associations also help with the technical committees;
  2. Standards are drafted by consensus of the committee;
  3. There is a public review by members;
  4. If there is a consensus among the members then the Final Draft of International Standards is then published;
  5. If the next vote is positive, the draft standard is then considered an official standard.

ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 are unique because they are generic, meaning that these standards can apply to any organization, large or small. ISO also involves all types of products, processes, and service, such as in business, public administration or government.

Any establishment deciding to utilize ISO of any genre can choose to be certified, although in most ISO categories with the exception of ISO 9001, certification is required. Most establishments do regardless of the ISO category because it adds to their credibility. Certification involves an audit from a 3rd party to determine the implementation and maintenance of various quality issues for the specific process or product. (3) Certification adds validity to statements of quality made by the establishment.

There are several strong points that ISO brings to an establishment:

  1. ISO improves quality and therefore the customer’s response to an establishment’s product;
  2. ISO helps maintain compliance with regulatory agencies and maintains environmental objectives;
  3. ISO makes the best use of time, money and resources;
  4. The management standard is a must especially for a large company, and ISO provides this.

Standards are necessary in order to determine the true nature of the quality of the product that is being produced. Without standards, the results are poor quality, poor fit, processes and products that are incompatible with the equipment, processes and products that are unreliable and potentially dangerous. When products meet the standards we tend to take those standards for granted. With ISO, standards are more efficient and accurate and complete records are kept so that even when things are going well those standards are still upheld and used as an example.

According to Praxiom Research Group Ltd., an Edmonton, Alberta, consulting firm that translates ISO standards into laymen’s terms, the standards are management systems to improve performance.

The first ISO quality standard was published in 1987 and then revised in 1994. ISO 9000:2000 was developed as a set of quality management standards and is generic to any process or product. The purpose of this was to facilitate trade globally, and to be able to have standards for all kinds of goods and services. ISO provides for development and implementation of a program that is able to be audited, accredited and measured.

Now with ISO 22000, HACCP, along with supporting measures is being incorporated into companies around the world. In ISO 22000, all points of the food chain is considered, as well as the regulations regarding food safety. (9 CFR 417) It is the purest incorporation of HACCP into ISO and the combination of both sets of standards.

ISO is a quality management tool, in much the same way HACCP is a food safety tool. It is a way for producers to control quality aspects that may have an effect on food safety whether immediate or at a later time. NSF International (Ann Arbor, Mich.) is working to promote the combination of HACCP and ISO in private industry, noting that the combination of the two improves both systems and gives industry and regulators a measure of accountability as well as identifying elements along the chain that may be critical to the food safety issues as well as quality issues that concern consumers. In this way the links in the food chain can be strengthened.

Lydia Guillot is a veterinary medical officer/public health veterinarian for USDA. Reach her at LGuil42909@aol.com.

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