Magazines Archives - 2008 May

Building a culture around hygiene and integrity: Singapore a model to watch in the region
Cover Story

Although Singapore is among the first in the region to adopt various food-safety standards,
implementation remains a challenge. Food experts and retailers explain to Jolene Klassen the importance of putting food-safety guidelines into action and creating a culture that encourages food integrity and hygiene.

When it comes to the food-supply chain, there seems precious little to hamper retailers in Singapore from keeping safety and hygiene optimal, especially with government guidelines and standards for food safety already well in place. But to ensure that measures are implemented — and correctly at that — continues to pose a challenge for the retailer.

Still, as one of the first in the region to adopt food-safety standards, the republic remains poised to lead in the game, particularly in cold-chain management. Says Guy Kurkjian, president of the World Food Safety Organisation: “Singapore plays a very important role in Asia because it is where things happen.

The government’s commitment that we need is very strong, and the infrastructure that supports that commitment is also in place.” And there is urgency to adopt standards in light of the recent food
scares across the region. In fact, at Food&HotelAsia 2008, a regional food-and-hospitality expo held last month in the republic, a two-day forum and management course was held to discuss food-safety issues.

But more than simply commitment and awareness of the importance of food safety in the supply chain, retailers need to develop a “culture” around it within their organisations, Kurkjian urges. The culture, he says, should be based on standards and guidelines already in place.

Promoting such a culture among retailers demands their understanding of the reason behind the standards. This goes beyond simply following guidelines drawn up.

One key area that is particularly vulnerable is the distribution of chilled produce throughout the country. “Most of the chilled food [products] sold in Singapore are either locally manufactured, processed or imported, and this involves coordination among the different players in cold-chain logistics, from the farm to the supermarket,” states Teo Nam Kuan, group director of quality & standards at SPRING Singapore, the local standards authority.

He explains that the various stages of logistics that chilled produce goes through can raise the risk of its spoilage as a result of temperature changes and mishandling anywhere along the supply chain.

Safety in the chain, he stresses, “will not only improve the freshness and quality of chilled food
but will also enhance the productivity and growth of the industry in the entire cold chain”. Over the past few years, the three standards that have been implemented

for chilled produce in Singapore are grouped under the Technical Reference for Cold Chain Management of Chilled Pork (TR 20), Milk & Milk Products (CP 95) and Vegetables (TR 24), Teo says.

“These [references] provide guidelines for the management of temperature profiles in the various links in the cold chains for these foods. Proper management of each link ensures that meat,milk & milk products, as well as vegetables are kept fresh and, most importantly, safe for consumption.”
To elaborate, Teo cites the reference for chilled pork: “There are six major links in the cold-chain management of chilled pork, starting from the farm to the abattoir, processing or deboning
plant, transportation, retailing and, finally, consumers. [The standard] covers chilled pork both from local and accredited overseas abattoirs, and chilled pork packed in vacuum and nonvacuum

A breach along the chain would not only pose a serious threat to the safety of the consumer, but will also undermine the customer’s trust in the retailer, warns Seah Kian Peng, managing director
of NTUC Fairprice Co-operative Ltd, which operates FairPrice, one of the pioneering retailers in Singapore to adopt the cold-chain management programme. “Across the industry, proper controls
and stringent management systems continue to be issues retailers are concerned with. It is important for the retailer to maintain constant dialogue with suppliers and customers to ensure that
customers’ expectations are met and to constantly refine our supply-chain processes,” Seah says.

“Winning the customer’s trust in our food safety and quality is priceless — food safety is an integral part of our ‘brand promise’ to provide safe and quality products at great value to our customers.”
The FairPrice chief reveals that apart from being HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) and ISO 9001 accredited, the company only purchases products from “reputable suppliers
all over the world” which are approved by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore.
In a display of its commitment to food safety, “FairPrice conducts thorough internal audits regularly and also invites external audits every six months to ensure consistent standards between HACCP re-certification”, says Seah. He encourages retailers to adopt such certifications, including the international ISO 22000, introduced only two years ago.

The safety considerations for fresh produce, including its being transported hygienically, will also positively impact shelf life, reducing the likelihood of waste and assuring the customer of freshness
that meets industry standards. Retailers will clearly benefit from the resultant savings, and gain “consumers who will go to retailers offering fresher products”, says Teo. “Major supermarkets already require their suppliers to implement cold-chain management,” he notes.

An advocate of rigorous safety and hygiene practices for every segment of the cold chain, Teo argues for “innovative systems, and modern technologies and equipment” to be considered when
implementing standards in order to “control and monitor the temperature of chilled [produce]”.

Meeting customers’ expectations: At NTUC FairPrice, the cold-chain system ensures that food items are kept at the right temperature for safety and hygiene reasons, with all meats, vegetables and other dairy products handled under refrigerated conditions.

And there is good reason for this, as Seah explains: “Most food items require storage at appropriate temperatures to ensure freshness and food safety. Meat, for example, is particularly susceptible
to bacterial growth.

“At FairPrice, we keep such food items under the cold-chain system to ensure that they are kept at the right temperature for food safety and hygiene reasons — all meats, vegetables and other dairy products are handled under refrigerated conditions.

“At our fresh-food distribution centre, we use an intelligent temperature monitoring system, Televis SMS.” The Televis SMS monitors temperatures throughout the facility round-the-clock and alerts the staff to any abnormalities in temperature, allowing for the efficient ratification of any problems
that may arise.

Apart from tracking the movement of goods, visibility in the supply chain serves the added purpose of allowing for easier identification of products in case of a breach in the chain.

chain approach for the management of food safety by applying regulatory controls at the point where they are most effective,” says Dr Ramadoss. “The harmonisation of food regulations was one
way of taking care of these issues.”

As the Indian food industry comes of age — with significant strengths in innovation and R&D, marketing and distribution capabilities, communication skills, the intensification of agriculture
and animal husbandry — more efficient food handling, processing and distribution systems, and new technologies, including biotechnology applications, are being exploited to feed a burgeoning

But some of these innovations pose problems to food safety and nutritional quality, calling for special attention to ensure consumer protection. “Food safety in a supply chain is extremely complex, as the food passes through several points and stages before it reaches the consumers,” says Sanjay Chaudhary, general manager (quality) of Reliance Retail, which has launched a chain of food stores countrywide in the past two years.

“Only food that is free of contaminants or hazards, and will not cause harm, injury or illness to the consumer can be classed as ‘safe food’.” In the supply chain, food from the farm is transported in bulk raw form to warehouses or cold-storage units, before being processed, packed and stored
in a finished-goods warehouse. Then, it is moved to a distribution centre from where it is transported to the retail store, eventually reaching the consumer.

“Clearly, during the entire chain, there are several physical, chemical and biological hazards, some visible and others invisible, that can affect the food,” Chaudhary notes.

Among the visible hazards he lists are hair, grit and gravel, stems and seeds, bone fragments, feathers, strings, jute fibres, nails, nuts and bolts, and even buttons, cigarettes and matchsticks.
“Chemical hazards in food include adulterants, cleaning chemicals, pesticide and veterinary residues, food additives, heavy metals and colouring agents,” Chaudhary says, adding that
the retailer has occasionally noticed that processing with rusty equipment can lead to metallic contamination.

"Even more dangerous are the invisible hazards like bacteria, yeasts, protozoa, moulds and viruses. Bacteria grow rapidly in conditions that suit them; and it is up to us to make it difficult for them to grow by controlling the temperature, humidity and moisture required for their
growth, and by reducing the time [it takes to] reach the consumer.”

He points to the major challenge at the primary production stage where Reliance Retail ensures that the supplier to the cold-chain practises proper environmental hygiene, processes raw
material in a hygienic manner, handles storage and transport needs, and ensures periodic cleaning and maintenance.

“Proper storage of farm produce is extremely important, as moisture can destroy grain that is improperly stored,” Chaudhary highlights. “We advise our suppliers on the establishment and
design of their storage facilities, and ensure that they have proper food control and equipment to monitor the quality of air, quantum of moisture, and facilities for drainage and waste disposal.”
Reliance Retail has divided its purchases in the cold chain into low-risk and high-risk foods. In the former category, the company is satisfied with declarations regarding safety of the products that undergo safe bulk packaging.

For high-risk items, however, additional safety measures are undertaken, such as insistence on health and veterinary certificates (in the case of meats), test reports, temperature logs and certificates of conformance to Codex and ISO standards. GMP (Goods Manufacturing Practice) and GHP (Good Hygiene Practice), which form a basic necessity at the processing stage, are HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) prerequisites.

“The safety of raw-food materials during transportation by road, sea, rail and/or air is a major challenge, with transit storage a key problem area, needing the involvement of all stakeholders,”
says Piruz Khambatta, chairman of Pioma Industries (a manufacturer of Rasna soft drink concentrate) and chief of the Confederation of Indian Industries’ National Committee on Food
Processing. “In India, we have found that, a lot of the time, placards and signs extolling the virtues of good practices remain paper norms, and are not implemented.”



2008 May Stories:

Building a culture around hygiene and integrity: Singapore a model to watch in the region

Dairy Farm performs well despite uncertain climate

Customer service tops concerns despite slowdown

Chinese suppliers to hold prices steady

SM group posts first-quarter income gains in the Philippines

Appintment - Bobby Cheng Hoo Wah

Top-end German kitchen sets up shop in China

FJ Benjamin renews franchise for Guess

Orchard Road makeover begins

Swiss firm in Basel to invest in biotech facility in China

Visa updates list of compliant service providers

Aditya Birla Retail drives format expansion in India with Oracle technology

Annual growth for RFID market at 20.7%

Woolworths to extend self-checkouts to 70 stores by next month

TESCO shores up in Malaysia with SAS

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