Report finds food testing policies different between countries

Report finds food testing policies different between countries

by Sue Jones
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There are various approaches to food sampling in four nations, including the United States, as shown in a report published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Campden BRI reviewed food control systems in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States.

The study looked at how authorities perform sampling and analysis of food and feed, systems for gathering intelligence, and other information which informs the sampling and testing program.

Findings suggest there is no one-size-fits-all approach as differences in planning and conducting various sampling activities were observed between the four countries.

Differing approaches
The FSA documents list three types of sampling: for official controls; hypotheses or surveillance sampling; and intelligence sampling. But the terminology used in other countries often varied.

Authorities in Canada, New Zealand, and the United States play both regulation setting and enforcement roles. However, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) sets standards and coordinates responses to food safety incidents but does not have enforcement powers.

Sharing the responsibilities between multiple agencies, which happens in the United States and Australia, may lead to differences in the extent of regulatory oversight in different parts of the country or between foods, sometimes even with similar risks, found the study.

Oversight of the entire food chain in Canada and New Zealand is mainly done by a single regulatory agency, which can facilitate the planning of sampling.

Because of resource constraints and the extensive range of products it oversees, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration tends to apply a risk-based prioritization approach when planning sampling and other activities. The FDA has three types of sampling: product sampling, environmental sampling, and emergency response/emerging issues sampling.

Because products under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) jurisdiction are relatively riskier, FSIS-regulated establishments are subject to a more comprehensive oversight, according to the study.

Use of third parties
Samples for official controls and surveillance are mostly collected by government officials or third-party personnel accredited by legislators but sampling for a number of programs is conducted by third-party contracted samplers. In certain cases, food businesses are legally required and responsible for taking samples, arranging the testing, and/or submitting data to authorities.

Agencies in the United States and Canada benefit from a well-developed government laboratory infrastructure but may also use third-party private labs, according to the report. Authorities in New Zealand and Australia predominantly rely on external accredited or government approved labs.

In Canada, data shared by food businesses on a mandatory and voluntary basis feeds into Establishment-based Risk Assessment (ERA) models, which are used to calculate the risk associated with a site and determine the level of oversight it will receive.

All four countries are major exporters of agri-food products so exporting establishments are subject to additional oversight, including mandatory participation in dedicated sampling and testing programs, including for microbiological hazards and chemical residues.

Australia and New Zealand classify imported foods based on risk to consumers and public health associated with the food, and riskier foods have a higher level of scrutiny. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is gradually adopting a risk-based approach. One or more types of inspection are conducted on every lot of product before it enters the United States.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is reviewing its surveillance activities for food safety and developing a work plan for the next 18 to 24 months. The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service also recently reviewed sampling resources aimed at maximizing the efficiency, effectiveness, and value of such projects.


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