Let’s talk about ... food, hygiene and safety.jpg

Let’s talk about … food, hygiene and safety

being a technician in hygiene and safety in the workplace, I have been approached by various companies to clarify the up-to-date situation in relation to implementing food hygiene and safety in specific establishments; namely the catering industry. Specifically answering such questions as: What to implement? How to implement it? What model to follow? And what is legal?

Food hygiene and safety has the general objective of preserving food safety through certain procedures and measures of auto regulation (self control) of premises, equipment, staff and food products. It encompasses all areas related to food, from production to the final consumer, based on a combined effort of those involved. When this is well implemented, it can bring various benefits to the companies, such as;

• A global improvement in the quality of the product.

•Control of the various stages of production.

• A rise in confidence of the consumer.

• Develop new levels of competence among staff.

• Strengthen and stimulate the market.

• Make the companies more competitive.

• Strengthen the image and profits of the company.

What is the legal situation

in Portugal?

In Portugal, there has always been a preoccupation with the regulation of food hygiene and safety, but, since March 14, 1998, through Law Decree Nº 67/98 (which was taken from EU Directive 93/43/CEE) and, later on, Law Decree 425/99, the obligations and adequate procedures in this area were specifically based on the various activities, through introduction of principles of auto-control.

These principles are taken from the methodology of the Hazard Analysis Control Point (HACCP), although the reality is that, in the food sector, not everybody has implemented this type of adaptation, either through motives of lack of knowledge or “ignorance” of  the law.

Time passed, and the development, implementation or effective control of food safety continued to be no more than another legal requisite, rarely enforced and with lax official control.

In 2004, a new EU regulation appeared – CE 852/2004 from April 29, with direct application to all EU countries from January 2006, stating that all businesses and activities related to the food sector must implement a system of food safety based on the principles of the HACCP. This responsibility falls on the owners of all the various food sector establishments.

As a consequence of the implementation of these regulations, we have seen that, since January, official monitoring has been increasing and almost daily we are faced with headlines such as: “… risk of food contamination in …”, “ … food poisoning due to spoiled food …”, “ … incorrect methods of production, conservation, handling …”. But, it has also been made clear that, in many cases, the lack of knowledge, ignorance and negligence of businesses is still prevailing. In many cases, the owners of the organisations DO NOT REALLY KNOW WHAT TO DO, WHAT TO IMPLEMENT … HOW TO IMPLEMENT, WHAT SERVICES TO HIRE … and so on ….

All of the above formed the reason for writing this article: trying to help clarify frequent doubts from owners and clients related to the implementation of the food control system recognised by law.

How can businesses comply

with legal requirements?

To start with, the proprietor can implement food hygiene and safety of his/her establishment himself/herself, but, of course, if he/she does not have adequate knowledge or time (the procedures are complex), it would certainly be extremely difficult for them to manage to comply with what is demanded. The best choice is to obtain technical means for implementation, either through creating an in-house department or contracting a technician with specific capabilities in this area. Whichever option is chosen, the starting point will always be a diagnostic audit that will assess the strongest and weakest points of the establishment or unit, on what relates to specific food hygiene and safety procedures.

After the initial assessment, the implementation phase will commence, which is divided into two stages encompassing the pros and cons obtained from the diagnostic audit.


Auto-control activities

Prerequisites of the food system or application of basic rules of food hygiene (existing legal requisites), of which the most important are:

• Conditions of the installations/structures.

• Conditions of installations/equipment.

• Good practise of personal hygiene (staff education).

• Good practise of food handling

(staff education).

• Pest control (disinfestation of rats and cockroaches and so on).

• Control of suppliers (raw materials, transport and warehousing).

• Cleaning and disinfection (hygiene plans).

• Public services (drinkable water, rubbish disposal, and so on).

• Management and reporting.

The above prerequisites form the basis of food hygiene and safety in any establishment, carrying a timing of medium/long term implementation (one year), providing the necessity to convene regular meetings, requiring elaborate documentation of the respective procedures, implementation and verification of execution among other aspects.


Application of the principles of methodology of HACCP

Analysis of dangers and critical areas of control:

• Identification and analysis of dangers (creating lists of stages of processes, potential dangers and measures of control).

• Determining critical areas (prevention, elimination or reduction of potential dangers).

• Establishing critical limits (acceptable maximum and minimum values).

• Monitoring processes.

(evaluation and recording).

• Corrective actions (never totally achieved).

• Verification processes (to bring about the HACCP plan).

• Registration (establish procedures for maintaining registration and documentation).

The implementation of food hygiene and safety should be developed in these two distinct stages, both of which are legally compulsory. However, it is important to note that there are many situations where only the first stage is carried out, meaning the prerequisites which do not satisfy the actual legal requirements.

Of course, to be fair, it is not easy for the majority of businesses to implement the food hygiene and safety system, due to its complexity. If we consider two important factors: costs and change of mentality, there is resistance, and difficulties will appear. However, we should never forget that it is a gradual and evolving process, based on permanent auto-correction, meaning there is a space/time “timing” for implementation that allows the business itself to adapt and assimilate.

One last thing is that any business can opt for the Certification in Food Safety System Quality that, although is not legally obligatory, is a possibility within the national certification system through the norm: ISO – 2200:2005.

F. Marreiro

Advanced Technician in Hygiene and Safety

Luzdoc International Medical Service