How Regulation and Technology are Driving Food Safety in Asia

Contributed by Rick Gilmore, Chairman, Global Food Safety Forum (GFSF)

In every industry, changes to either regulation or technology serve as a catalyst for innovation in the other.

As China continues to significantly tighten its food safety regulations and ASEAN works towards a harmonised future for food regulations, many companies in Asia are looking at what new technologies they may need to ensure a safe food supply for consumers in the region, and speculating on what these changes might bring.

China’s food safety focus

China’s new laws, announced last month (April 2015), are widely considered its toughest food safety laws ever, and will officially take effect from October 2015. Some of the changes include centralising supervision of food production and trading activities under the China Drug & Food Administration (CDFA), greater focus on risk prevention, stricter food ingredient and processing regulations, and tougher penalties for violations.

For many companies, this means in some cases they will need to review how they process foodstuffs, innovate in their production processes, and also how they apply better food safety testing measures at the production stage.

Meeting international standards

Globally, as food safety regulations become both more stringent and more detailed in their requirements; regulatory systems - reinforced by international standards, have propelled forward both new technology developments in food safety and broader adoption of existing technologies.

It will be ever more important for food producers and manufacturers operating in Asia to keep pace with these technological innovations to avoid building potential future barriers to trade or local production.

The US Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA) administered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) focuses on prevention, inspections, compliance and response, imports, and enhanced partnerships.

Introduced in 2011, looking at preventative controls alone, FSMA calls for the introduction of hazard analysis and critical control point systems. This means food manufacturing plants need to have in place process, allergen, and sanitation controls plus a monitoring system and recall plan. To ensure reliability of the system in place, the food producers in the U.S. must have access to verification instrumentation.

In another related area, the Foreign Supplier Verification Program under FSMA, equivalency is the norm. This means that foreign suppliers must conduct science-based verification that their product imported to the US, is safe. The list goes on.

The EU example of regulation impacting technology

With international standards intended as the norm, other systems such as the European Union’s (EU) Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed under EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) are designed to secure compliance with European standards, long considered among the toughest in the world.

The implementation of all such systems is dependent on appropriate technologies and in response we have witnessed a synchronisation between regulatory requirements and the introduction of new food safety technologies. Together, they form the risk mitigation architecture for food safety in the global supply chain.

GFSF’S white paper titled, Food Safety Technologies: Key Tools for Compliance, notes that the 1996 HAACP rule led to steam pasteurisation prevention and that a recent EU food labelling regulation resulted in the introduction of new ‘use-by date’ modelling software systems. Lauryn Bailey and Laura Baker of SCIEX write in the GFSF publication, “Modern food and beverage testing has advanced into a rigorous practice carried out on precision, state-of-the-art instruments that supply critical information about contaminant levels in all types of food and drink – from farm-fresh produce to factory-prepared foods.”

In conjunction with the evolving global structure of the food and feed industries, pathogen controls face new challenges. Pathogens, of course, know no territorial borders. Prevention norms and controlling outbreaks and contagions requires an increasing level of sophistication in detection. Technology, once again, has risen to the occasion. Polymerase chain reaction kits shorten the detection period and reduce the cost of lab reviews under ELISA (enzyme linked immune absorbent assay) methods which may require up to a week for conclusive results.

Food safety challenges in ASEAN

In the newly forming ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) we also see first-hand how different regulatory standards can create a lapse in technology adoption in food safety, that are required to keep pace in an increasingly global marketplace.

One of the challenges as ASEAN works towards harmonisation of its food regulatory standards is the varying technical capabilities on the ground in different countries to enable adoption. While there is scope and willingness to invest in new food technologies, most state-of-the-art equipment requires a higher-level understanding of food science, which requires investment to upskill local technicians dealing in the area. In response, ASEAN working groups are focusing on this area to develop the laboratory capabilities across the Member States.

A safer future

As Asia enters an exciting new era of growth in food technology development and expertise driven by enhanced food safety regulation, it’s an exciting time to be at the forefront of these developments, and two way dialogue and partnership between the public and private sector will be key to successfully delivering food safety benefits for consumers.

In step with these changes, this year’s annual Beijing Summit, hosted by the Global Food Safety Forum (GFSF), on June 13 and 14, will focus on the role of technology in regulatory compliance and the breakthrough technologies that are in place to meet new challenges, as well as insurance models for food safety liability.

Food Industry Asia (FIA) has a select number of tickets available for FIA Members who are interested in attending and joining the conversion. For more information on the conference visit here.

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