Food Safety Magazine (FSM) sat down with Paul Young, Ph.D., to discuss a range of food safety and security issues, particularly efforts to increase the capabilities and capacity for food safety.

What are the top food safety issues facing the industry today? 
According to the EU RASFF [European Union Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed] annual report for 2013, the presence of pathogenic micro-organisms remains the single most notified food safety issue, accounting for almost 25 percent of all notifications. Among the wide range of chemical contaminants reported, mycotoxins, pesticide residues and veterinary drug residues collectively accounted for more than 30 percent of all notifications. One notification type that increased significantly in 2013 over 2012 was that of fraud/adulteration. This was probably directly related to the horsemeat scandal that was uncovered in the EU, but represents an area of growing concern and reflects the fear that any food subject to fraud is unlikely to have been controlled for safety in any other regard.

What solutions currently exist for addressing food insecurity and how can companies get more involved?
During the 20th century, activities aimed at addressing food security focused primarily on addressing increased production in low- and middle-income countries. More recently however, there is a realization that abundance of unsafe or uncontrolled food does not constitute food security. Indeed, it is also accepted that removing barriers to access of high-value export markets by strengthening food safety controls hold tremendous potential for alleviation of rural poverty in those low- and middle-income countries. The solution to this requires a much more holistic approach than has been employed previously. This is likely to involve a combination of regulation, ensuring good practices are employed in agricultural production and manufacturing along with robust testing for verification. The expertise in these areas lies with diverse groups, and while no single organization holds all the keys, the food industry has a wealth of knowledge and experience of implementing solutions that they have a lot to offer. I believe an opportunity exists for the food industry to support the common good, while simultaneously creating an expansion of possible supply chains.

Can you talk about the Global Food Safety Partnership and what the current goals of this group are?
The Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP) is a public, private partnership facilitated by the World Bank with the objective to improve food safety globally through capacity building in low- and middle-income countries. It brings together, international organizations (such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, the World Health Organization, etc.), with government regulators, nongovernment organizations and industry to address a set of common goals. The expected outcomes of the activities of GFSP are:

  • Improved public health and food security through strengthened food safety systems
  • Enhanced agri-food and food value chains
  • Trade facilitation and acceleration of economic growth
  • Alleviated rural poverty

GFSP members acknowledge that many of the tools necessary for food safety capacity building already exist and that they are frequently employed to very good effect. However, there is also a belief that the value of these existing activities and resources can be multiplied through a more coordinated approach. GFSP therefore looks to build sustainability and scalability for existing models. A great example of this coordination and scalability can be found in the pilot lab training program that is currently underway in China. This program brought experienced scientists from Chinese government organizations to the International Food Safety Training Laboratory (IFSTL) at the University of Maryland to receive instruction on how to become trainers teaching methods for analysis of veterinary drug residues (training of trainers). IFSTL instructors are currently supporting those new trainers as they begin to teach the methods to scientists from their own organizations in China. Subsequently, the trainees will be evaluated to see how well they are able to implement the teachings through provision of proficiency test materials provided by another of the GFSP partners (FAPAS [Food Analysis Performance Assessment Scheme]).

While this is a very good example of scaling laboratory capacity building and deploying it locally, future activities may explore possibilities for coordinating this verification element with training for regulators and those involved in supply chain control.

What is Waters’ role in the IFSTL?
Waters customers play an integral role in ensuring the safety of the food supply. Of course, testing per se does not make food safe, however, testing forms an essential element of the verification that the food safety controls are effective and are being employed. In effect, testing builds the trust in the efficacy of the control procedures. However, the test methods must conform to acceptable performance criteria before they can be deemed fit-for-purpose. Waters has long had a policy of recruiting experts with extensive experience of these procedures to ensure that the solutions offered can guarantee success for our customers. An important element of this strategy relies on providing advice and education, particularly for customers in emerging economies.

Waters has long been involved in capacity building activities, for example, supporting the activities of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s Food Safety Cooperation Forum. Waters’ CEO, Doug Berthiaume, recognized very early that GFSP had the potential to provide a valuable support network for Waters customers in emerging markets and indeed created an opportunity to strengthen and complement Waters existing capacity-building activities in those geographies. He therefore agreed to Waters making a substantial donation (along with Mars Inc. and the United States Agency for International Development) towards the establishment of what was to become the GFSP.

Waters continues to play a leadership role supporting GFSP and holding the position of co-chair of the food safety technical working group.

FSM thanks Dr. young for his participation and thoughtful comments.