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All countries need adequate food control programmes to ensure that national food supplies are safe, of good quality and available in adequate amounts at affordable prices to ensure an acceptable nutritional and health status for all population groups. Food control includes all activities carried out to ensure the quality, safety and honest presentation of the food at all stages from primary production, through processing and storage, to marketing and consumption. The term has been used to describe a total national effort involving an integrated approach between government and all segments and sectors of the food industry. Food control is linked to improvement in the health of the population, potential for a country's economic development and reduction of spoilage and food losses.

The Codex Alimentarius General Principles of Food Hygiene lay a firm foundation for ensuring effective food control and food hygiene. The General Principles of Food Hygiene follow the food chain from primary production through to the consumer, highlighting the key hygiene controls at each stage. A Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) approach is recommended wherever possible to enhance food safety. The HACCP approach is internationally recognized as being effective in ensuring the safety and suitability of food for human consumption and in international trade.

Recognizing the importance of HACCP to food control, the twentieth session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, held in Geneva, Switzerland from 28 June to 7 July 1993, adopted Guidelines for the application of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system (ALINORM 93/13A, Appendix II). The revised version of the Recommended International Code of Practice - General Principles of Food Hygiene [CAC/RCP 1-1969, Rev. 3 (1997)], adopted during the twenty-second session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, held in Geneva from 23 to 28 June 1997, incorporates the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system and guidelines for its application as Annex.

The HACCP system, as it applies to food safety management, uses the approach of controlling critical points in food handling to prevent food safety problems. Besides enhancing food safety, other benefits of applying HACCP include effective use of resources and timely response to food safety problems. In addition, the application of the HACCP system can result in more focused risk management by food control regulatory authorities and can promote international trade by increasing buyer confidence in food safety.

The HACCP system identities specific hazards and control measures to ensure the safety of food. An HACCP plan is specific to the particular food and processing application. The HACCP system is capable of accommodating change, such as advances in equipment design, new information concerning health hazards or risks, new processing procedures or technological developments.

The successful application of HACCP requires the full commitment and involvement of management and the workforce. It also requires a team approach. The application of the HACCP system is compatible with the implementation of quality management systems, such as the ISO 9000 series, and HACCP is the system of choice for the management of food safety within such systems.

HACCP and trade

Significant implications for the Codex Alimentarius Commission arise from the Final Act of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT): the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement). Codex standards, guidelines and other recommendations have become the specifically identified baseline for consumer protection under the SPS Agreement. In this environment they take on unprecedented importance with respect to consumer protection and international food trade. As a result, the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (including the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point [HACCP] system and guidelines for its application) has become the reference for international food safety requirements.

While the improved level of food safety associated with the implementation of HACCP and the leading role taken by the food industry are recognized, the application of HACCP as a public policy requires definition of the role of government in the utilization of the HACCP process and risk analysis. Individual countries need to address the issue of HACCP implementation so that their food export industry can meet the requirement recently adopted by some importing countries related to HACCP application to food products. The mandatory requirement to use HACCP and any subsequent barriers or other constraints to trade, particularly for developing countries, need to be considered and identified. The appropriate application of HACCP to different segments of the food chain and the impact of this application on small and medium-sized food industries also needs to be addressed.

Recent FAO activities

Recognizing the importance of HACCP in food control and the necessity and importance of improving the safety of food in international trade, and to address the issues identified above, FAO convened an expert technical meeting in Vancouver, Canada from 12 to 16 December 1994 to discuss the use of HACCP principles in food control.

The expert technical meeting noted that training in the application and implementation of the HACCP system was of utmost importance and recommended that FAO consider assuming the leadership role in conducting high-quality and effective industry and government HACCP training. In their report, the experts also recommended that FAO establish an inventory of available HACCP models and training reference material and prepare a core curriculum for practical HACCP training courses. It was recommended that the training be focused on developing skills and methods necessary for training government and industry representatives in the requirements of the Codex General Principles of Food Hygiene and the principles and steps in implementation of HACCP. Further, the core curriculum should be modifiable to reflect cultural sensitivities and to address infrastructural problems in individual countries.

As follow-up to the training recommendations of the expert technical meeting, FAO convened a temporary technical working group which met in Rome from 13 to 17 February 1995 to plan a training of trainers course in HACCP for developing countries. The temporary technical working group consisted of representatives from the Centre of Export Inspection and Certification of Agricultural Products, Thailand Department of Agriculture; the Thai Food Industry; and international experts in food sanitation and hygiene, HACCP and training techniques. The working group prepared a tentative agenda for a course on training of trainers in the application of HACCP to be held in Thailand.

The meeting participants agreed that the objectives of the training should be to promote a common approach to the application of HACCP based on the Codex guidelines and to instil trainers where possible with sufficient skills in the theory and application of HACCP to train others. The training should establish agreed terminology and basic understanding of HACCP principles and impart to the trainees those skills necessary for the application of HACCP to food safety in both the public and private sectors.

Two pilot training courses were carried out in Cha Am, Thailand (31 July to 11 August 1995) and Sao Paulo/Brazil (12 to 23 August 1996). It was concluded that the course format achieved its objective of imparting a thorough understanding of the technical information and its application to the participants. Participants completing the course demonstrated practical knowledge of the General Principles of Food Hygiene and the application of the HACCP system and the ability to train other people.

The FAO approach to the HACCP system

There is a tremendous demand for training in the HACCP system and the development and assembly of reference materials to support this training, particularly in developing countries. It is a matter of urgency to provide the necessary clarification with regard to the application of the HACCP system.

The objective of the FAO HACCP training programme is to promote good manufacturing practices (GMPs) and the HACCP system through understanding and application of the Codex General Principles of Food Hygiene, including the Codex guidelines for the application of the HACCP system and other Codex codes of hygienic practice. FAO is working to enhance the role of science and risk analysis in the development of the HACCP system and to create a framework for determining equivalence of food safety control programmes for a harmonized approach to the application of HACCP.

The FAO training programme harmonizes the approach to GMPs and the application of the HACCP system and aims to provide an effective mechanism for delivering the appropriate core curriculum and knowledge to selected segments and sectors of the food industry, individuals involved to varying degrees in the preparation, monitoring, administration and verification of HACCP plans and food control regulators. Included in the FAO training programme is emphasis on training the trainers who are in a position to train others and to apply the knowledge gained and hence to contribute to self-reliance, particularly in developing countries.

To accomplish these objectives, FAO has embarked on a plan to develop further collaboration and partnerships with regional and national counterparts, where possible with other international organizations and with the food industry to review the needs of the developing countries regarding their HACCP system implementation plans and to establish workable strategies.

The training package

Training is not an objective in itself but is linked to improvement in a country's public health and economic development. It is in this context, and recognizing the need to standardize GMPs and HACCP training, that FAO has prepared the training package on the Codex Alimentarius General Principles of Food Hygiene and the application of the HACCP system. In order to harmonize or standardize the approach to training/Sections 2 and 3 of the training package are formatted around the Codex Recommended International Code of Practice - General Principles of Food Hygiene and the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system and guidelines for its application. The training manual consists of three sections:

· Section 1: Principles and methods of training

· Section 2: Recommended International Code of Practice - General Principles of Food Hygiene

· Section 3: The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system

Each section is composed of training modules; this format allows for the training material to be combined and customized as appropriate to the specific trainees. Sections and/or modules can be selected by the instructor as appropriate to the level of knowledge, experience and specific responsibilities of the trainees in a given course.

An introductory section for each module outlines the objective, suggested methods of instruction, teaching aids and/or references, lesson content, presentation suggestions or exercises, anticipated time frame for instruction and anticipated learning outcome for the trainees.

The FAO training programme is not static; because of its modular approach it is sufficiently flexible to adapt to the evolution of food safety programmes and requirements. Modules can be added, deleted or amended as appropriate to remain current and to provide the appropriate training materials.

Content and material have been selected and structured to ensure that the training package provides essential information in a standardized, logical and systematic manner while adhering to effective teaching and learning strategies. The package is intended to standardize the training approach and to reduce the research and preparation time normally required by an instructor offering comprehensive courses of this nature. It should be noted, however, that the contribution of the individual instructor is essential to the success of the training. The instructor may add material as appropriate to the specific training. The instructor's personal experiences, elaboration and discussion of key points, anecdotes, review and questioning opportunities and involvement of the students are the means by which the material will be communicated, absorbed, enjoyed and understood.

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