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Food Safety Management - Starting from the Sources

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Mr. Ronald Lau

There is a Chinese idiom that says "Eating is as important as Heaven", which shows how vital food is to us. With the increasing living standard, the demand for imported food has increased dramatically and consumers are becoming concerned about the quality of food - from raw materials and manufacturing, to transportation, storage and consumption. This issue, we have interviewed with Mr. Ronald Lau, Vice-President and Chairman of the Hong Kong Food Council (HKFC), shares his views on the importance of food safety in Hong Kong.

VISION (V): HKFC was established in 1984. Over the last twenty years, how has it promoted the message of food safety and enhanced its professionalism in the industry?

Mr. Ronald Lau (Lau): Since the establishment of the HKFC, we have actively participated in regular meetings with industry representatives and the HKSAR Government, consulting and discussing their demands and the trends in food safety requirements, in order to keep pace with administrative and operational policies.

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Public Opinion is crucial to policy making. One of the missions of the Council is to reflect public opinion and to pass on suggestions to the HKSAR Government directly and openly. When the Government enacts regulations and ordinances, we can consolidate industry members' opinions and propose macro and operationally suitable solutions to the Government. Also, we regularly invite representatives from industry and government bodies to hold seminars and forums to share their experience and to enhance relationships.

From the training perspective, the "Food Hygiene Manager Course" has been widely welcomed by industry practitioners. Over 80% of practitioners from the food supply industry have enrolled on this course and around 15,000 of them have qualified as Hygiene Managers since November 1999.

V: How does the Council promote its message to other, non-food industries in order to make more people aware of the importance of food safety?

Lau: This depends on the needs and requirements of different industries. HKFC regularly invites industry representatives and government bodies to participate in seminars and sharing sessions. We also organize food-related training courses with local institutes so as to improve the knowledge and quality of practitioners. For example, we have arranged different seminars for food suppliers, tuck shops and lunch box suppliers in the school sector so as to improve their understanding of food safety. We also provide schools with guidelines on selecting food suppliers, tendering procedures, food handling procedures and nutritional information. These help to develop healthy eating practices and promote food safety.
 
V: Recently, there have been a number of cases of contaminated food in Hong Kong; contaminated peanut butter and oysters, malachite green found in freshwater fish and so on. Does the Council have any suggestions for reducing such incidents?

Lau: Over 95% of our food is imported, most from Mainland China. It is very critical to have a well-developed food safety management systems and so the Centre for Food Safety, which aims to closely monitor the quality of the sources of imported food, has been established by the HKSAR Government. The most effective and direct way is to monitor operational and consumer aspects of the food supply chain.

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Operational aspects include suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers, who play an important role as gatekeepers. They need to be alert when managing the food safety process throughout the whole supply chain, a job which is not only the responsibility of hygiene managers. It is necessary to have a monitoring system to closely monitor food process management from importation, handling to transportation and consumption.

Consumer aspects include public education, guidance on food selection, handling procedures for raw, ready-to-eat and cooked food, and the storage process. A partnership between the Government and the citizen is the only solution.

V: How does the HKFC expect food safety management systems in the region to develop?

Lau: "Hygiene Control System Certification Scheme" (HCS), "Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point" (HACCP) and "ISO 22000 Food Safety Management Systems" (ISO 22000) are well recognized by local industry players. HCS was launched by Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency in 2004 and incorporates the ISO 9000 concepts and Good Hygiene Practices to provide a total solution for managing the risks associated with public hygiene. HACCP has been generally accepted by the local food industry over the last six to eight years. It focuses on risk management in food administration in order to prevent hazards from occurring. It also ensures the safety of food from harvest to transportation. ISO 22000 is the integration of internationally recognized principles such as HACCP, the international code of practice on principles of food hygiene, and quality management systems, which aims to achieve continual improvement as well as the effectiveness of organizations implementing them. Each of these has its own characteristics and advantages.

To further protect the health of citizens and to enhance awareness of the importance of food safety, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) announced a special concession for licensed food premises certified with ISO 22000. The premises can be exempted from incurring demerit points and from having their licenses suspended or cancelled under the demerit points system. Because the concession encourages businesses to monitor themselves, it should encourage them to pay more attention to food safety.

The HKFC is lobbying the HKSAR Government to also allow HCS and HACCP to be applied under the regulation. If implemented, this would encourage all parties in the food supply chain to support each other so as to ensure continuous improvement in safety standards. Certified organizations can show their commitment to food safety and can also promote themselves as corporate citizens contributing to society.

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The Hong Kong Food Council is an independent and non-profit-making organization established in 1984. Its objectives are to represent businesses in the food and catering industry and to consider, investigate and inquire into all matters relating to food. It aims to promote food hygiene and to protect public health, participating in consultations with the HKSAR Government, the Consumer Council and other bodies on food-related matters including the formulation of laws and implementation procedures. HKFC actively participates in promotional programmes and organizes training courses to improve the quality of food practitioners.


(This article is published in "Vision", Issue 23, March 2007.)

In case of any discrepancies between English and Chinese version, the English version shall prevail.

Content provided by Hong Kong Quality Assuance Agency