Food safety and quality

Food control systems

What are they about?

A national food control system ensures that food available within a country is safe, wholesome and fit for human consumption, conforms to food safety and quality requirements and is honestly and accurately labelled as prescribed by the law. As such, food control systems protect the health and safety of consumers and help assure the safety and quality of foods being traded both nationally and internationally.

Why are they important?

Protecting the health of citizens of a country is one of the fundamental roles of a government and closely linked to the achievement of several Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), in particular SDG 2 and 3. At the same time, food control is critical to ensure fair practices in the food trade to foster economic opportunities of all stakeholders along the food chain.

In an age of rapidly changing food technologies and ever-increasing global food trade, controlling foodborne hazards along the entire food chain has taken on a pivotal role. In order to cope with complex emerging challenges of the 21st century, food control systems need to be up to date with the latest developments, operate based on the concept of risk analysis and be harmonized with international standards and best practices developed by Codex Alimentarius.

How they work

In order to operate effectively, a food control system requires appropriate legal and policy instruments, well-qualified human resources, sound institutional frameworks as well as financial assets, equipment and infrastructure (including access to laboratories) as its foundation.

The regulatory authorities designated under the food control system (also known as competent authorities) help ensure food safety and quality along the food chain and manage food safety hazards, fraud issues, emerging risks and emergencies. This work includes oversight and inspection of Food Business Operators (FBOs), information collection processes that contribute to a better understanding of the food chain; and programmes aimed at preparing for and managing food safety emergencies. Appropriate connections to the foodborne disease surveillance systems are key to ensure a whole chain approach, up to the consumer, and in case of need, appropriately address food safety events and emergencies, both upstream (identifying the source of an outbreak) and downstream (being able to identify the population at risk).

In addition to mandatory activities performed by competent authorities under their regulatory mandate, the “non-regulatory” activities of that system also need to be taken into consideration; these include communication and capacity development programmes. Processes for constructive interactions with stakeholders (such a FBOs, consumers and the international community) are important to allow the system to take into account the evolving needs of both national and international stakeholders, to inspire confidence and to keep them well informed about their responsibilities.

Furthermore, in order to manage current and emerging challenges, it is important for a food control system to be grounded in evidence and science, incorporate risk analysis principles and keep abreast of new scientific developments and innovations to continuously improve the effectiveness and efficiency of food control activities.

What we do

FAO provides technical assistance to:

  • Assess the national food control system using a newly developed FAO/WHO tool that allows countries to identify priority areas of improvement and plan sequential and coordinated activities to reach expected outcomes. It also provides a baseline to monitor their progress. 
  • Advise national governments on policy and institutional  frameworks for food safety/quality management in compliance with international food safety requirements, particularly those of the Codex Alimentarius, taking into consideration countries’ priorities and needs as well as of existing national and local capacities and institutions.
  • Develop modern, effective national food legal frameworks through teams of legal advisors working closely with food safety experts giving due consideration to harmonizing legal frameworks with WTO requirements.
  • Develop science and risk-based regulations, making sound use of the risk analysis framework, and anchored in Codex Alimentarius standards, guidelines and codes of practice
  • Develop risk-based food inspection and monitoring programmes (including management aspects, technical skills for risk-based inspection, sampling and testing, etc.)