Editor’s Note: The Caribbean, Central America, and Oceania comprise some of the world’s top tourist destinations. But behind the beautiful beaches, ancient ruins, and unique landscapes, each region is hard at work improving their food safety initiatives to be on par with the rest of the globe. The first part of this special report focuses on the Caribbean. The second and third parts will focus on Central America and Oceania, respectively.
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The Caribbean welcomed an estimated 28.7 million tourists in 2015, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. Given the scope, scale, and diversity of the Caribbean, its people and cuisines, and the significant tourism component of its economy, it’s no surprise there are many challenges to achieving and maintaining a high level of food safety, many of which are unique to the region.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is among the most prominent food safety issues currently impacting Caribbean exporters, according to André Gordon, PhD, CFS, managing director of Technological Solutions Limited (TSL), a Kingston, Jamaica-based company that provides food product development, auditing, laboratory, training, and other food safety consulting services throughout the world.
“Compliance with the FSMA requirements that have come into force or are approaching their implementation dates is a concern for food manufacturers on the Caribbean islands,” Dr. Gordon says. “Specifically, the Preventive Controls for Human Foods Rule (21 CFR part 117), the Produce Safety Rule, traceability requirements, compliance with the Foreign Supplier Verification Program requirements, and conformance with the allergen management and labeling requirement are all in the fore front. So is understanding the implications of the full implementation of the FSMA, particularly the Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Preventive Controls regulations.”
Ongoing inspection of Caribbean food and ingredient exporters by the FDA is another issue, Dr. Gordon notes. “The FDA conducted 18 inspections in Jamaica in July and August 2016 alone, with all of the firms visited generally being acceptable, and just minor findings being raised in a few instances,” he mentions. “Moreover, meeting the food safety and quality systems requirements of buyers from the European Union (EU) and Canada, including for proof of compliance with allergen, labeling, residue, and other limits, is a constant challenge.”
Dr. Gordon says the ability to access the kind of technical and analytical support required to comply with importing country and buyer requirements can be both financially tough, as well as challenging for some Caribbean stakeholders, as the persons with the knowledge to assist, though growing, are few.
“The increasing insistence of buyers of Caribbean export products in the U.K., EU, and North America that firms must have at least a certified, compliant Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system in place or have HACCP certification from a recognized entity compound some companies’ challenges,” Dr. Gordon relates. “This is because it both costs and takes time to get the system implemented, during which time the firms’ access to the market may be curtailed. And many importers of our products are insisting on Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) certification in order to continue to do business with Caribbean exporters.”
Caribbean food purveyors also need to comply with requirements of major buyers from the hospitality and food service sector for a compliant and/or certified food safety system, Dr. Gordon adds. “There are increasingly mandatory requirements from transnational quick serve restaurant (or QSR, the common industry abbreviation) customers that supplier firms must be able to pass food safety audits to their proprietary standards,” he says. “Some of these include the need for GFSI certification.”
Caribbean food regulations, where they exist, need to be based on food safety system principles, rather than on quality criteria, Dr. Gordon emphasizes.