Laboratory prepares for rush by food exporters

By Julian Richardson Assistant Business Co-ordinator

Wednesday, September 21, 2011    

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The Scientific Research Council (SRC) expects to achieve accreditation for its food tests within the next 12 months.

It's an important development in the rush towards ensuring local food exports meet new US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules that requires - effective January 2012 - all processed foods entering the US to be tested by an accredited laboratory.

SRC already provides the relevant food tests, but the procedures need to be accredited in order to qualify under the tightened US regulations. Therefore, the Government agency has adopted an aggressive programme to get this done by the local accreditation body, Jamaica National Agency for Accreditation (JANAAC) within the next year.

"SRC has a cadre of internationally certified HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point - an international food safety standard) consultants to facilitate exporters in implementing requirements to be HACCP certified by the requisite body, and will conduct food tests to facilitate compliance with HACCP and FDA requirements," said Roselyn Fisher, general manager of Marketech, SRC's commercial arm.

She was speaking with the Business Observer during a tour of its facilities on Hope Road in Kingston yesterday.

SRC has two 3,182 square-foot labs - one each for microbiology and chemistry.

The labs are already ISO 9001:2008 certified and accredited under ISO/IEC 17025 for conducting important water and wastewater parameters. ISO 9001:2008 certification speaks to the efficiency of the lab's management system while ISO/IEC 17025 speaks to the technical competence and expertise of SRC's analytical laboratories.

Tests for PH and acidity levels - which basically tell how much shelf life a product will have - are among the procedures that hopeful food exporters will have their products subjected to at the SRC analytical labs. The SRC will also determine whether food properties fall within the parameters set by the FDA, evaluate what exporters are doing and advise on what they ought to do.

"The SRC will continue to provide quality consultancy services in support of the food safety systems of agro-processors for the local and certainly the exporter markets. This effort will be intensified particularly in regard to the mandate of the minister (Industry Minister Dr Christopher Tufton) to join a task force to provide relevant assistance to exporters regarding their compliance with the new US regulations," said Fisher.

The new FDA rules, which fall under the US government's Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA), threaten hundreds of millions of dollars in hard-currency earnings for Jamaica.

At a hastily called press conference earlier this month, Tufton announced that 80 per cent of local food exporters are not certified to standards that would allow their goods to enter the US under the FSMA.

"About 48 million people (one in six Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from food-borne diseases, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is a significant public health burden that is largely preventable," noted Fisher.

"The law primarily focuses on protecting the US consumer against food-borne diseases. This has implications for the Jamaican exporter to the US, in that those who are already HACCP certified should experience minimal if any dislocation; while it is an opportunity for others to get address the gaps in their Food Safety systems so that they can meet the requirements."

The FDA has advised that in early 2012 it will be conducting 50 audits among Jamaican businesses that export to the US. Under the new Act, among other procedures, companies are required to share their food safety plans with the FDA upon request; write and implement food safety protocols to mitigate potential hazards; and implement acceptable traceability and recall mechanisms. Meanwhile, the FDA now has the power to order a mandatory recall if it determines that there is a reasonable probability that a product poses a health hazard — it could only recommend voluntary recalls before; and to block food from facilities or countries that refuse inspections.

Local food exports to the US were valued at US$118 million in 2010.



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