Sacha Walters-Gregory, Staff Reporter
Jamaica has a new national standard for food production and processing.
The Jamaican Standard for the Production of Processed Foods - utilising the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) Principles - will assist all food handlers with the various aspects of producing food items in accordance with international standards.
"It sets out clear guidelines for a food-safety management system. So all establishments involved in any kind of food preparation, processing will use this standard," said Orine Henry-Blair, director of the Regulatory Division, Bureau of Standards Jamaica, during a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum at the newspaper's North Street, central Kingston, offices.
This includes food manufacturers as well as restaurants.
"Because it has so many checks and balances in place, it's good for the restaurant setting because you can always ensure that at the end of the day, you are producing safe food," said Henry-Blair.
"It deals with specifics such as the location of the establishment, the design and layout of the premises, of the rooms, equipment," she said, adding, "It speaks about the facilities, meaning water supply, drainage cleaning, health and personal hygiene, air quality and ventilation."
Other categories include pest-control programmes, transportation of food items, time and temperature control, microbiological and chemical requirements and hazard analysis.
"It also details a HACCP plan with corrective actions that you should take. It speaks about records, product recall and all of that," she said.
Henry-Blair emphasised the timeliness of the standard, considering global pressures to produce exports in line with international standards.
"Here at the bureau, we have a secretariat for the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA). One of the requirements for the FSMA is that local companies should demonstrate that they have a credible food-safety management system, with all the parameters that I mentioned, in order to meet the requirements," she said.
"We have had inspections from the US FDA and we have had notification, just this week, that they'll be conducting more inspections of local food facilities," she said.
Currently, adhering to the standard is voluntary. However, Henry-Blair stressed the need to adhere to the practices, especially if a company wants to grow by selling products overseas.
"It is very critical because this is acceptable in the international arena, the HACCP food-safety management system, so if you are exporting to other markets they will want to ensure that you are producing in accordance with a credible food-safety system in your country or origin," she said.
As it stands, Jamaican food producers use the Jamaican Standard Specification for Processed Food (General) and the Processed Foods Act as guidelines.
"Those two pieces of legislation were being used before, but this one is a step up in that what is happening now is that the onus is being put back on the persons producing. The other ones were geared towards the regulators going in and checking," she said.
"The bureau is moving away from the policing and more looking at auditing these systems."
The document, which Henry-Blair said is user-friendly, is available for sale at Technical Information System at the Bureau of Standards for $3,573.
"We're planning to have a sensitisation session for the food-processing industry. That has not happened yet. We're trying to tie down a date. But the inspectors, who are going out to the food establishments on a day-to-day basis, have been talking to processors to encourage them that this is the way to go," she said.