The revision of ISO 22000, the voluntary certification for “Food safety management”

4 October 2016 Off By Pastaria

A preview of the revision of ISO 22000, the food safety management standard applied, on a voluntary basis, by operators in the agri-food sector.

by Massimo Gelati (Gelati Group)

Agri-food sector enterprises are subjected to ever increasing pressure, both from the legislative standpoint and by consumers, who make legitimate requests for safety and guarantees. In this scenario, the commitment of companies towards the careful management of risks becomes an element of competitive advantage. Certification according to the ISO 22000 standard involves discarding the retroactive approach to quality control and replacing it with a preventive approach.

ISO 22000 is a standard applied by food sector operators on a voluntary basis.

It was published by the International Organization for Standardization, ISO, in order to harmonize pre-existing national and international food safety and HACCP standards.

The standard was drawn up by a working group composed of experts from 23 different countries and by representatives of international organizations such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the International Association of Hotels and Restaurants, the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the European Union (CIAA).

What is ISO 22000?

ISO 22000 is the fundamental standard for safety management systems in the agri-food sector. It enables all companies involved, either directly or indirectly, in the supply chain, to pinpoint the risks to which they are exposed and handle them effectively. Preventing accidents all along the supply chain and verifying compliance with standards are two essential aspects for brand protection.

The ISO 22000 standard was designed to be compatible and in line with the other international standards in management systems, such as ISO 9001. It can therefore be integrated with already existing management systems and processes.

ISO 22000 is applicable to all companies operating directly or indirectly in the agri-food supply chain, including producers, processors, distributors and users of packaging, materials and objects intended to come into contact with foodstuffs.

The document is based on the HACCP principles defined by the Codex Alimentarius, and is in line with the previous ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 standards.

Although it is not compulsory, this standard provides a reference point for operators regarding the application of regulations of the European Community on the subject of food safety and hygiene.

The standard guarantees agri-food safety “from the field to the table” on the basis of fundamental principles acknowledged by sector operators at an international level:

  • interactive communication: this is an innovative and fundamental factor in risk management, which creates a structured flow of information directed both to and from the company, in order to guarantee efficient control of risk factors;
  • system management: it enables the control of all the interactions between the elements making up the system, in order to guarantee the efficiency and effectiveness of the system itself;
  • prerequisites: this involves the adoption of the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice), GHP (Good Hygiene Practice), and GAP (Good Agricultural Practice) schemes, as well as of maintenance programmes and procedures for equipment and buildings and pest control programmes;
  • HACCP principles: Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points. This is the basic method for controlling production processes and verifying their safety. It is ideal for every single company, without creating useless red tape.

The advantages of ISO 22000 certification

The advantages of ISO 22000 certification are many and varied: the main advantages are the tangible and demonstrable improvement in performance in terms of agri-food safety and a better guarantee of compliance with regulations.

The ISO 22000 standard enables companies to:

  • create and implement an agri-food safety management system within a reference framework that is clearly defined but flexible enough to meet the requirements of the company’s specific business;
  • understand and identify the effective risks to which both the company and consumers are potentially exposed;
  • develop tools in order to measure, monitor and efficiently optimize agri-food safety performance in general;
  • strictly comply with the restraints imposed by the legislation and fundamental requirements.

The attainment of ISO 22000 certification also provides an occasion for the company to communicate with all of its stakeholders and demonstrate the company’s commitment to food safety-related issues, in conformity with the requirements of Corporate Governance, Corporate Responsibility and the Sustainability Report.

What is going to change?

After a decade of good service, the ISO 22000 standard on food safety management systems is undergoing a major facelift, since an in-depth revision of the norm is underway.[hidepost]

Ingesting unsafe foods can lead to devastating consequences, both for the health of consumers and for companies throughout the world. Food products travel well beyond national borders: ISO 22000 is becoming more essential than ever today, in order to guarantee food safety at a global level, all along the supply chain.

The working group ISO/TC 34/SC 17/WG 8 – assigned to the revision and managed by the Danish Standards Foundation DS – has just recently held its fourth meeting in Buenos Aires. First of all, the experts worked on the over 1,000 comments collected on the text of the new draft standard and examined them in the course of the meeting with a view to incorporating them in the document.

In parallel, WG 8 clarified some key concepts contained in the revision, including:

  • the application of the new High-Level Structure (HLS) to ISO 22000, now mandatory for the processing or revision of MMS (management system standards): in fact, the new structure defines a framework that makes it easier for companies to integrate several management systems;
  • the provision, to the users of the standard, of indications on the various risk-based approaches;
  • the concept of “risk” is introduced at various levels and it is important for agri-food enterprises to distinguish risk assessment at an operational level – through the HACCP method – Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point – and business risk which also incorporates the concept of opportunity;
  • the provision of further clarification on the working of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, including in the standard two separate PDCA cycles, operating one inside the other at management system level and operational level, respectively;
  • a clear description to users of the differences between critical control points (CCP), Operational Prerequisite Programs (OPRP) and Prerequisite Programs (PRP).

The prevention, reduction or elimination of hazards connected with food safety are indispensable in order to keep a product safe all along the supply chain. The revision of the standard will integrate key elements which will make it possible to guarantee safety at all levels of the food supply chain until the product finally reaches the consumer. These are:

  • interactive communication at all levels;
  • a systematic approach to management;
  • prerequisite programs;
  • HACCP principles.

A food safety hazard could occur at any “loop” of the supply chain: so it is fundamental to have suitable controls in place for each stage. Good communication is also essential to guarantee that hazards are identified and handled at the appropriate operational level. As a result, food safety can only be the fruit of the collective efforts of all the players in the food supply chain: from the producers of foodstuffs and animal feed, to the operators and subcontractors assigned to transport and storage, to the retailers.

The experts who met up in Buenos Aires felt that it was necessary to draw up a second Committee Draft in order to produce a more mature document. There are important interests at stake in the global food supply chain and a level of consent still has to be reached. The task of WG 8 is to clarify and convey the fundamental concepts in the simplest and most concise terms possible, in order to develop a standard that is comprehensible and easy to apply for big and small enterprises all along the supply chain.

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