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Food processors ignore FSMA whip

Published:Sunday | May 6, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Beverly Miller project coordinator, FSMA secretariat, Bureau of Standards Jamaica. - File

The countdown to imposition of the new United States food-safety law has begun, but gap audits for a number of processors are outstanding, tying the hands of local authorities who need the reviews to devise a programme of assistance for companies that might need to upgrade plant and equipment.

The companies have access to funds set aside by the Jamaican Government for the purpose, but few are reaching out for help.

"Despite the availability of an EXIM Bank J$100m loan facility specifically to support efforts to meet the FSMA requirements and a further US$20m PetroCaribe loan facility, many firms have not accessed either," Beverly Miller, head of the FSMA secretariat, told Sunday Business.

The secretariat is located at the Jamaica Bureau of Standards' (BSJ) Winchester Road offices.

There are an estimated 90 companies likely to be impacted by the US Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA), which imposes stricter food testing on all imports into that country starting January 2013.

Miller did not say how many companies are lagging, but noted that some are at varying stages of readiness.

"Some firms have engaged consultants to assist with training staff, documenting procedures and implementing their food-safety systems," she said.

Miller said five local laboratories have applied for accreditation, which they must do in order for their test results to be accepted under the FSMA.

"So far, five local food-testing laboratories have applied to the Jamaica National Agency for Accreditation to be accredited to the international standard ISO/IEC 17025 - General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories. These five laboratories are at different stages of the process," Miller said.

Jamaica National Agency for Accreditation and Certification or JANAAC has also trained more than 80 laboratory personnel on how to conduct food-safety tests to ISO 17025 standard as part of the accreditation process.

The agency has offered a 50 per cent reduction in the cost of accreditation to laboratories that apply before May 30, 2012.

The BSJ, meanwhile, is also engaged in training, including that of 27 inspectors from stakeholder ministries, departments and agencies as FSMA auditors.

The US Code of Federal Regulations (21CFR - Parts 108, 113 & 114) requires that all plant personnel involved in acidification, pH control, heat treatment and other critical factors of the operation be under the operating supervision of a person who has satisfactorily completed a prescribed course of instruction approved by the Commissioner of Food and Drugs.

Workers in food processing plants are getting the requisite training in that regard, Miller said.

"Factories which process low acid and acidified foods — for example, canned ackees, callaloo, sauces — are required to have personnel who have satisfactorily completed such a course," she said.

"The Better Process Control School (BPCS) is an essential FDA-approved certification course which satisfies the regulations."

At the request of the FSMA secretariat, the University of the West Indies (UWI) conducted a BPCS in January. Miller said 88.7 per cent of the 52 local participants were successful in the course supervised by the BSJ on behalf of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA team of inspectors, who arrived in January, also trained some 40 local food inspectors from the BSJ's Food Storage and Prevention of Infestation Division; the Plant Quarantine Division of the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries and the Ministry of Health, in Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) inspection of ackee- processing plants, as well as in Low Acid Canned Food (LACF) inspection.

The BSJ itself has conducted a 'good manufacturing practices' training session as well as HACCP training courses for 55 persons in the food industry.

Other workshops have been staged nationwide by the Jamaica Exporters' Association with a total of 104 participants, while the Ministry of Agriculture has been working with farmers and fresh produce exporters.

Miller said inspectors from the Plant Quarantine Division and the BSJ continue to monitor the conditions of packing houses and processing establishments.