Foodborne illnesses have huge economic impact across the globe. For example, according to some estimates the total economic impact of foodborne illness in the USA is more than USD150 billion annually. In developing countries, where the problem of diarrheal disease is far greater, the effect on socioeconomic development is even more severe. Foodborne illness can create serious long-term effects on society, particularly young children and the elderly.
Foodborne pathogens, i.e., microorganisms found in food such as bacteria, fungi, parasites, protozoans, and viruses, are the main causes of foodborne illness. Bacteria are generally the most important. The food chain has many stages where food is susceptible to contamination by foodborne pathogens. Food safety management systems and the safety of the entire food chain are thus of paramount importance to people and the agrifood business across the world. Failures in these systems are often highly public and catastrophic.
While a number of countries in Asia and the Pacific region have achieved progress in strengthening food safety management systems, many are still struggling to tailor their traditional food control systems to meet current food safety challenges. Main impediments include inadequate food safety capacities, insufficient financial investments, weak foodborne disease surveillance, outdated food regulations and weak law enforcement, inability of small- and medium-sized producers to ensure the supply of safe food, fragmented food control systems, and lack of policy coherence among sectors. Careful preventive measures must be established based on sufficient knowledge of which types of food are contaminated by which types of pathogens under which conditions.
Statement of the Issues/problems
Due to high incidence of foodborne diseases and its effect on public health and economy, food safety concerns are now the primary goal of the government to ensure availability of safe and quality food products in domestic and international markets.
Under the SPS Agreement of the WTO, importing countries have enacted various regulations to prevent any obnoxious pests and diseases from entering into their countries, which sometimes could serve as technical barriers to imports. At the same time, the major importers, especially the large supermarkets in the more developed markets in the USA, Europe, Japan, Australia, etc., have made private food safety standards and certifications a requisite from the exporters before shipments are possible. As a result, food manufacturers and traders face these challenges due to strong competition both in the local and export markets.
To address the increasing incidence of foodborne diseases, a regional Task Force was consituted with the following mandate: (a) to identify challenges in enhancing national food safety systems to minimize the incidence of foodborned diseases due to foodborne [athogens; and (b) to formulate strategies, action plans, raodmaps, and recommendations to address them.
Objectives of the Project
The APO Workshop on Risk Management of Foodborne Pathogens had the following objectives:
a. To review the public health implications and practical solutions related to the growing problems of foodborne pathogens;
b. To equip participants with knowledge of foodborne pathogens and approaches to contain them to ensure food safety;
c. To study the best practices in a food supply chain to minimize contamination by foodborne pathogens;
d. To formulate strategic action plans for promoting such good practices.
OBJECTIVES FOR PARTICIPATION
The Project is very relevant to my present job at the Technology Development Division (TDD). Presently at TDD, one of our researches deals on microbiological risk assessment, and one of the projects is specifically on comparison of the growth rates of selected pathogens at 30°C to support the assessment of risk from pathogen contamination in wet markets. Growing concerns over the handling practices of meat in the wet (open) market have led to new regulations issued by the Philippine Department of Agriculture with respect to time of holding the newly slaughtered meat in the market for eight (8) hours and the maintenance of frozen meat under chilled conditions while thawing. The results will be used to determine risks of pathogen growth in meat while at the wet market. Future studies have been proposed to develop a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP)-based plan and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) procedures in slaughterhouses to bring down the final pathogen counts of newly slaughtered meat to low levels, and to determine impact of classes of slaughterhouses on the pathogen levels of newly slaughtered pork carcasses.
Based on above background and on the growing concerns of the Philippine food industry on food safety, my objectives in joining the Workshop were timely as it will provide opportunities for me to review and study the objectives of the workshop on risk management particularly on the health implications and solutions related to growing problems of foodborne pathogens. My expectations from the project were to: (a) be equipped with knowledge of foodborne pathogens and approaches to contain them to ensure food safety; (b) know the best practices in a food supply chain to minimize contamination by foodborne pathogens; (c) be able to formulate strategic plans for promoting such good practices; and (d) be able to use the knowledge gained to help contribute to strengthen food safety management systems in the food chain through identification of the main impediments for food safety.
There were two (2) participants from the Philippines, namely:
1) Ms. Edith San Juan, Chief Research Specialist- Technology Development Division of the Food Development Center of the National Food Authority under the Department of Agriculture; and
2) Ms. Sharon Rose Garcia, Food Drug Regulation Officer III, Department of Health-Center for Health Development, Zamboanga Peninsula
Scope, Content and Methodology
The materials provided during the workshop were handouts of the programme, copies of presentations in a binder, paper, pen and pencil.
The APO Representative ensured that all questions were fully discussed, especially during the open forum. An open forum followed each presentation of Resource Person and Country Participant, with active participation from the delegates.
The workshop consisted of thematic presentations with emphasis on managing risks in the food chain that may be caused by foodborne pathogens, case study presentations, group exercises, and visits to selected enterprises/companies that are implementing preventive measures against foodborne pathogens and microorganisms.
The group exercises were conducted on the third and fourth day of the workshop. There were three groups and each group concentrated on risk management related to milk and dairy, seafoods, and poultry products in the food chain. The outputs were formulated strategies, action plans and roadmaps, and recommendations to address the challenges of increasing incidence of foodborne diseases. On the last day, each group presented their output, an open forum followed each presentation.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE COUNTRY PAPER
Food safety is the aim for food security and this can be achieved by proper coordination of governing authorities. Risk management is the decision-making body based on scientific facts evaluated and recommended by the joint expert groups on specific issues. There are a variety of risk management options that help to ensure a safe food supply. These range from prevention to setting of regulatory limits, diversion to alternate uses and economic costs.
In the Philippines the Food Safety Act of 2013 was put into law to strengthen the food safety regulatory system in the country, to protect consumer health and facilitate market access of local foods and food products, and for other purposes. The Food Law shall aim for a high level of food safety, protection of human life and health in the production and consumption of food. It shall also aim for the protection of consumer interests through fair practices in the food trade. It supports the work of the National CODEX Organization (NCO) in the establishment of National Standards for primary and pro cessed commodities for food safety. The NCO was organized to answer a need for a mechanism for appropriate expert and stakeholder inputs to the country’s positions on Codex standards. It also serves as an advisory body to the government on issues arising from or related to the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). The establishment of National Codex Organization (NCO) serves a most useful service by ensuring that consultation is undertaken and that accurate, fair and balanced advice is provided to the government. With this development, the Philippines aimed that every Filipino will have safe food to eat for the betterment of the society and for the progress as a nation.
OUTCOMES AND EVALUATION
Significance of Project
The objectives of the Workshop were met.The topics were informative and relevant to current issues in foods. The Resource Persons presented an overview of risk management in different areas of the food chain such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fisheries, and meat and poultry. A Resource Person also presented methods and techniques for the detection and enumeration of pathogens present in food.
The presentation of each country participant consisted mainly of: (a) the status of food safety in their country particularly on the extent of foodborne diseases and the economic implications on labor productivity, financial burden on national health systems; (b) policy and regulations on food safety especially those caused by foodborne pathogens; and (c) tools, techniques and approaches used for managing risks.
Most of the topics were relevant and applicable to FDC. The outputs of the Workshop can be presented/echoed to FDC.
Observations of the Project
The Program Officer from APO, who introduced the project/programme, knew the subject matter well and was a good moderator. He was able to control the flow of discussions so the group was able to discuss all topics scheduled for each day.
All the Resource Persons were knowledgeable of their topic, and were able to answer the questions of the participants during the open forum, had a good rapport with the delegates, and were approachable.
RECOMMENDATIONS AND ACTION PLANS
The group presentations focused on topics pertaining to risk management of milk and dairy, seafoods, and poultry products in the food chain.
The proposed action plans and road maps were on implementation of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) like cleaning and sanitation, product contamination control, waste management, and pest control; training and education programs related to food safety (media, workshops); establishment of competent laboratories; controlled environment of the slaughterhouses or the source of raw materials in the production; implementation of food safety systems; public awareness; and incentives to producers who will comply to policies.
The recommendations were mostly on interdisciplinary collaboration in food safety among producers at the farm levels, processors, retail markets, and consumers; implementation of food safety standards; free training and certification for the small-scale farm producers; and a continuous price control of raw materials.
The topic was timely and relevant to the work of my Institute, and as such the outputs of the Workshop can be presented to FDC through a seminar especially on topics related tocharacteristics of major emerging foodborne pathogens; methods and technology for rapid, accurate detection of foodborne pathogens; risk analysis of major foodborne pathogens in each food supply chain; measures to prevent/control foodborne pathogens and minimize risks; and best practices of prevention/control of foodborne pathogens in various food supply chains.
MS. EDITH SAN JUAN
Food Development Center
National Food Authority