ROME — The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has launched a comprehensive, practical and accessible toolbox designed to help all those operating in the food sector adhere to international food hygiene standards.
The toolbox, whose release on 7 June coincides with World Food Safety Day 2023, is based on the Codex Alimentarius (Latin for “food code”), a collection of standards, guidelines and codes of practice managed by FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) that aims to protect consumer health and promote fair practices in food trade.
The toolbox translates the extensive set of guidelines and norms governing Good Hygiene Practices (GHP) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) into easily digestible information via an FAO website. Special care was taken to consider the challenges faced by small food business operators and producers in low- and middle-income countries. For instance, the website has been designed to work well on handheld mobile devices, which in some developing countries are far more widespread than computers.
The overarching aim is to give all food business operators, whether on the farm or further along the value chain, and regardless of size and location, an instrument that enables them to better engage with local food safety authorities to produce, process and distribute safe food. The toolbox also caters for those with an institutional role, such as government officials, academia and capacity-building organizations.
“This toolbox is an important point of reference for food safety globally,” said Corinna Hawkes, FAO’s Director of Food Systems and Food Safety Division. “It provides not only the internationally agreed upon principles of food safety, but also sets a common language, which in turn provides a framework and a commonality within which countries can negotiate and food businesses can communicate on food safety amongst themselves.”
Strengthening food safety
When food is scarce, people will go to great lengths to keep themselves and their families fed. There is a direct correlation between situations of food scarcity and increased threats to food safety. With 600 million people afflicted by foodborne illness every year, one of FAO’s priority areas is to help ensure safe food for everyone.
FAO supports its Members in their efforts to improve food safety in various ways. Together with WHO, FAO provides the advice that forms the scientific basis of Codex Alimentarius standards. FAO also provides support in implementing standards and developing legislative frameworks and capacities to ensure food safety.
This toolbox, initially available in three languages (English, French and Spanish), is among the resources that aid such initiatives.
The technical content of the toolbox was developed and reviewed jointly by FAO Food Safety Officers and a team from the Department of Food Science, University of Guelph in Canada. It follows requests from Member countries for making Codex guidance more accessible.
Its contents include guides to personal hygiene, such as how to educate external visitors entering a food production site, the correct procedure and frequency for hand washing, and suggestions for appropriate clothing.
Going forward, the plan is to collect feedback and possibly expand the toolbox to provide more in-depth guidance for other sectors of the agrifood system, such as fisheries. Academia has already expressed an interest in using it as a basis for creating dedicated courses on food safety.
World Food Safety Day 2023 is marked by a hybrid high-level event featuring QU Dongyu, the FAO Director-General, and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General. This year’s event coincides with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.