The act also enables the assessment and collection of fees, “as will be reasonable and as nearly as may be to cover the cost of the service rendered….” The programs developed from the act are to be available to all areas of the industry, domestic and foreign.
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ISO 9001 Benefits
One of the services offered by ISO 9001 is the HACCP Quality Management Program (HACCP QMP). This program is a comprehensive program with emphasis on product safety, plant and food hygiene, economic integrity, and product quality. Firms participating in this program operate their approved quality system and are audited at a defined frequency by Seafood Inspection Program personnel. Audits are based upon the firm’s adherence to their approved plan. Firms who do not follow their plan well and take responsibility for corrections and improvement typically are audited more frequently. If a firm can maintain their system, they can be audited as little as once every three months. In return, compliant firms may place inspection marks on any product that meets the program’s requirements. With the only other alternative being a full time inspector during all processing of the identified product, a firm could save greatly on inspection costs.
In January 2000, the Seafood Inspection Program made changes to the HACCP QMP that further defined the quality system to be implemented. This quality system, based upon ISO Standard 9001:2000, would provide greater definition of the quality system and its controls for all products covered under the contract with the firm. Adoption of ISO 9001 would also allow firms to compete more effectively on the global market. Products leaving participating firms bearing an inspection mark or being advertised as inspected would be required to implement these changes. The firm’s quality plan now required the HACCP plan focus on food safety and be in a format conducive to inspection by the USFDA. However, it was also now required for firms to provide the program written hazard analyses for covered products, written sanitation standard operating procedures (SOPs), defect analyses, defect action plans, and a quality manual, which would define the quality policies and general procedures of the firm with regard to maintaining the quality of the applicable products.
Implementation would not be easy as the ISO 9001 standard had a poor reputation in the food industry. Many industry members were highly suspicious and were convinced a high increase in forms and written procedures would be enacted, making the system difficult to follow. The number and depth of written procedures that would be required were also in question. Others feared the increased demands on the system would result in a reduced focus on food safety.
Although seafood safety was directly a concern of the USDA and each state, a number of the Seafood Inspection Program participants used the program to further document and verify their adherence to food safety. As the program utilized a rating system with various levels of deficiencies based upon criticality of the issue, adding more “checkboxes” would only make it more difficult to achieve a high rating, which could ultimately affect the frequency of audits on the firm. In general the seafood industry was asking the question, “why is this necessary?”
The plan for implementation of these changes included time for the seafood industry and program participants to accept them and adapt their systems. To address the concerns of the seafood industry, a number of face-to-face meetings were held across the country at times convenient for industry members to participate. Similar meetings were held in the evenings with inspection personnel, as they would be integral to the successful implementation of the program. All questions and concerns were discussed fully. The meetings emphasized that these changes were specific to the HACCP QMP program and that firms would be given up to 18 months to implement the necessary changes. To ease the process, plan development and reengineering was provided to all firms. In fact, the current plans were assigned to Seafood Inspection Program personnel and a draft plan was developed with the necessary updates. This plan was then brought to the firm to illustrate the ease and minimal changes necessary. However, the concerns were still strong in the industry and the original timeline of 18 months ultimately extended to a total of four years. Even with all the fears of the industry, the HACCP QMP program now had a stronger place in global seafood markets and was widely accepted by many governments and buyers worldwide.
Application of ISO 22000
The official publication of the food safety management standard ISO 22000 that came in late 2005 provided another opportunity for the Seafood Inspection Program to further enhance its international acceptance.