FOOD SAFETY ALERT…Irresponsible Transportation and Delivery of Raw/Packaging Materials
If ever we are to move forward as a country that cherishes food safety, then one of the activities that need special focus is the transportation and delivery of purchased items from source to processing sites. Quality Assurance does not only exist in the four corners of a manufacturing site, but it is big enough to pull all stages of production under its huge umbrella. Irrespective of treatment methods, the handling of raw materials has a high impact on the microbiological, physical and chemical sanity of the end product.
Mode of Transportation
The entire supply chain process starts with identifying the right supplier, assessing the capability of the supplier and making the decision to buy. The capability of the supplier normally hinges on two things; the ability to supply the right quality under the right conditions and the capacity to produce in the quantities required.
The cost of raw materials is important but it becomes the last consideration after the first two have been satisfied. Large multinational industries which are in the minority normally follow international standards in the transportation of raw materials, especially raw food into their premises. It is worrying to say, that most small and medium scale factories do not follow even national standards.
Vehicles are commonly used for delivery services but the type of vehicle used for such purposes is important. The use of commercial vehicles for the transportation of raw materials to factories is quite common in Ghana. They range from trotro, taxi cabs, pickups and private vehicles. It seems that, the hygienic disposition of such vehicles is not considered significant so far as the products would reach the desired destination.
I have come across raw materials such as vegetables, fruits, poultry and meat heaped in dirty boots of taxi cabs. In one such instance I had to confront the managers of a popular supermarket who had dumped meat purchased from the abattoir in the dirty boot of a taxi cab with flies sitting on the exposed meat. There is practically no hygiene protocol for delivery vans once there are wheels under them. Apart from microbiological contamination of raw materials, there is the risk of taint from previously loaded cargo. It is therefore not surprising to taste chemicals such as soaps, disinfectants and other unfamiliar chemicals in finished products. It is possible that, a van that has transported drums of fuel or similarly dangerous substances can be used to carry raw materials meant for food production.
The delivery as well as the distribution of food product must be done under conditions that will not affect its safety and quality .
Controlling temperature, preventing cross- contamination from a food or non-food product to another are some things to have in mind in the transportation and the delivery of food products.
Delivering of food comes with risks which has to be controlled to meet regulatory, customer and consumer health requirements. The further food is transported, the greater the risk that conditions can become unstable, increasing the possibility of foods becoming unsafe to eat.
Different food products require different conditions to ensure safety and quality. Ready-to-eat, shell stable, raw, refrigerated or frozen all require different conditions. When frozen foods are kept at warm temperatures, they begin to thaw and this can affect the safety and quality of the food. Food pathogens grow slowly during uncontrolled thawing.
Refrigerated vans should be employed in transporting frozen raw materials like poultry and meat over long distances. In the absence of refrigerated vans coolers packed with ice may be employed. The breach of hygienic transportation of raw and packaging materials for food processing may come as a result of many factors including lack of training and supervision.
Lack of Training
The mention of training to most owners of processing companies takes them to the back seat. There are so many excuses why training is a bother; cost of training, workforce who are not knowledgeable enough to comprehend training materials, high labour turnover etc. Employees who are at the forefront of procurement should be trained on transportation hygiene. It is desirable to have a dedicated delivery van for raw materials. It is also standard practice for processors to employ the services of a third party for raw and packaging material deliveries. In both cases, a rigorous hygiene protocol should be put in place to ensure the hygienic delivery of raw and packaging materials.
The Quality Assurance officers should undergo training on what to look out for when doing hygiene checks on delivery vans. Delivery vans need checking before loading of raw materials and during offloading. It is best practice to segregate purchased items especially if mixed loading is being practiced. It is however not good practice to have packaging materials loaded together with raw materials for risk of taint.
Lack of Supervision
It is obvious that, most owners do not concentrate on the individual processes that form the building blocks of their product supply chain than the so-called ‘management’ of the business. They concentrate their attention on ‘strategy’, investors etc. Although these are good, taking your eyes off the individual processes to ensure each process is in sync with the orchestra could make the business fall flat on its face. A single product safety related incident could wipe a whole production setup out of the manufacturing landscape. Management should have strong frontline leadership who are empowered enough to take tough decisions and reject any act that may compromise product safety and quality. A synergistic approach between Quality Assurance and Procurement should help ensure that raw material delivery is done in compliance with national and international best practice.
Section 100 (Prohibited Acts) of the Public Health Act (2012), Act 851, subsection (5) states that “A person shall not sell, prepare, package, convey, store or display for sale food under insanitary conditions”. The regulation watch over transportation and delivery of raw, packaging and intermediate materials for the production of food hasn’t been sharp enough. It is common practice to see carcasses of meat being carried on the bare backs of people. More common is the manner in which unhygienic vehicles convey raw materials from the markets, suppliers and co-packers to various production sites. The fact that monitoring of this leg of the supply chain by the FDA and Public Health is critically low does not mean these practices are acceptable.
Food processors should understand, that they are responsible for every process right from the sourcing of input materials through processing to the time end products get into the homes of consumers. Negligence in the professional supervision of any of the processes within the chain could result in adverse health risks to unsuspecting consumers.
Johnson Opoku-Boateng is the Executive Director & Lead Consultant, QA CONSULT (Consultants and Trainers in Quality Assurance, Health & Safety, Environmental Management systems, Manufacturing Excellence and Food Safety). He is also a consumer safety advocate and helps businesses with regulatory affairs. He can be reached on +233209996002, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.