Belgian review finds benefits of private standards vary by sector

Private sector standards can help improve inspection results in some sectors, but not all, according to an analysis published by the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC).

The FASFC Scientific Committee was asked to examine whether the presence of a Private Guarantee Program (PAS) may have an effect on the food safety guarantee of operators in Belgium.

The inspection results were compared between companies with PAS certification and companies without PAS certification. Due to lack of data, only two types of PAS (IFS Food and FSSC 22000) were covered in the processing sector and in slaughterhouses.

The experts also took into account whether or not a company had a validated Self-Control System (SCS).

All inspection results in the FASFC database for operators in the processing and slaughterhouse sector were used in the comparisons. These results were recorded from 2019 to 2021. Inspection results can be favorable, favorable with comments, or unfavorable and actions taken after visits include notices and warnings of violation.

The experts found that there was a positive effect of a PAS if there was no validated SCS in the processing sector. The effect of a PAS is less if the operator already has a validated SCS.

However, no positive effect was found on the results of FASFC inspections for slaughterhouses, highlighting the importance of official regulatory controls in the sector, the scientists said.

Inspection results and additional work
Of more than 7,400 operators, 14 had both IFS and FSSC 22000, 501 had only IFS and 160 only FSSC, while more than 6,700 had neither or used a different Private Guarantee Scheme (PAS). More than 800 companies had a validated SCS, for 411 it was partially validated and for 6,200 it was not validated. The frequency of FAFSC inspections is higher among operators without a validated SCS.

In the meat and derived products sector, more than 1,500 inspections were favorable and 291 were unfavorable if the company had SCS but no PAS. If you had both, almost as many were favorable and 235 were unfavorable. The number of good inspections with comments was higher for those with a PAS than without one.

If there was no SCS or PAS, 1,533 inspections were unfavorable but almost 8,000 were positive. With only one PAS, 49 inspections were non-compliant and 587 were favorable.

In slaughterhouses, the number of favorable inspections with validated SCS but without PAS was 562 and 115 unfavorable. With a PAS, 197 were favorable and 54 were not. The number of favorable inspections with comments was higher for those without PAS.

If there was no validated SCS or PAS, 216 inspections were unfavorable and 1,982 were favorable. With only one PAS, 36 visits were unfavorable and 91 were not.

The Scientific Committee recommended that similar analyzes be carried out for different sectors and other private insurance schemes.

Directors of the European Food Safety Agencies group have produced a guidance document on private guarantee schemes and a study comparing establishments with and without a certified food safety management system in Finland found only a small difference in scores.

It’s not the first time the use of industry and third-party food safety findings to help resource-constrained regulators has been discussed. Voluntary Third Party Assurance (vTPA) programs were the topic of a session at the Vienna Food Safety Forum in 2022. In late 2021, the Codex Alimentarius Commission also adopted guidelines on the evaluation and use of vTPA programs.

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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