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One giant leap for food safety
Wednesday, 2020/10/14 | 08:38:00

From space travel to COVID-19, the food hygiene code has stood the test of time

FAO October 08 2020

 

The year was 1969. Final plans for travel to the moon were being fine-tuned. On the checklist had been how to keep food safe for the astronauts during a spaceflight. Foodborne illnesses in the United States, and indeed worldwide, in the 1960s were not a rarity.

 

So in the years leading up to lift-off, NASA worked with the Pillsbury Company and the United States Army Laboratories to ensure that the astronauts, orbiting in space, would not get sick from the food prepared for the flight, a situation that could be detrimental to the mission and safety of the spacemen. The team approached food safety the way it tested engineering reliability: by checking the weak points in the system.

 

Food can become unsafe through a variety of “hazards” that can be biological, chemical or physical but ultimately make the food unsafe for human consumption. By assessing the hazards and knowing where the critical control points, i.e. the potential weak spots, are, problems can be prevented. Prior to this approach, issues were identified solely in the end product, sometimes only once it reached the customer with often dire consequences.

 

This change in approach, focusing on prevention, marked a major shift in thinking and in the industry, a shift that, like space travel, has stood the test of time.

 

During this period, another body was focused more on earthlings and making these standards international for the sake of everyone on the planet, not just in space. Gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, the Joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission endorsed a “food code” that would serve as the backbone for all hygiene-related food standards for the next 50 years.

 

This body aimed to have every food business operator, whether a colossal, industrial processing facility or a vendor with a cart, implement a systemic way of preventing, controlling or removing contamination from food so that it would not make people sick. The gathering led to the creation of the General Principles of Food Hygienea document thatset out to accomplish just that.

 

See more: http://www.fao.org/fao-stories/article/en/c/1311934/

 

Figure: In its latest gathering, the Codex Alimentarius Commission has further promoted the HACCP-approach, a process to assess hazards and establish control systems that focus on prevention rather than on end-product testing.©FAO/Maxim Zmeyey.

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