Performance of Food Safety Management Systems in the Fresh Produce Export Processing Sector in Kenya
Food producers are required to implement different food safety and quality assurance standards and guidelines. This may result in variable food safety performance or output due to differences in technological development, resource access, food safety legal framework and the dynamic environment in which they operate. Despite developments in food safety management systems (FSMS), food-borne outbreaks linked to fresh and minimally processed vegetables and fruits continue to be reported. Commonly used approaches such as inspections, audits and sampling for testing do not provide systematic information on distribution and dynamics of microbial contamination. The aim of this study was to evaluate the performance of FSMS in the fresh produce processing sector in Kenya using a FSMS diagnostic instrument (FSMS-DI) and a microbial assessment scheme (MAS). The FSMS-DI based on a questionnaire with 71indicators with level descriptions for context factors, control and assurance activities and food safety output was used to evaluate thirteen fresh produce exporting processors in Kenya. The MAS was also used to assess the microbial performance of core control and assurance activities of five of the thirteen processors. Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella (food safety indicators), Enterobacteriaceae, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus (hygiene indicators), Coliforms, E.coli and Enterococci (water quality indicators) were analysed at critical sampling locations (CSLs). CSLs included the initial and final products, food contact surfaces, personnel hands and/or gloves and water. Based on compliance to criteria, food safety levels of either 0,1,2 or 3 was attributed to each parameter analysed at the various sampling locations and microbial safety level profiles (MSLPs) constructed from the sum of scores at each sampling location. xi The FSMS diagnosis indicted that majority of the processors (≥7) operate at moderate level in most (74 %) of the context riskiness indicators. Seven out of the 13 processors indicated that susceptibility of initial material to microbial contamination posed the highest risk with respect to product characteristics. Even though majority (61 %) of the companies had advanced level core control activities performance for 6 out of 29 of the activities, they showed a moderate performance in 48 % of the activities and 24 % control activities were not applied. Core assurance activities for majority of the companies also performed moderately in 89 % of the indicators. FSMS performance was poor for 53 % and good for 37 % of the processors. All the processors had advanced scores for monitoring of pesticide residues but 38 % lacked sampling and criteria for microbial analysis. The FSMS implementation for 77 % of the companies was poor to moderate and, given the moderate context riskiness, this therefore resulted in moderate FSMS-output. MAS results indicated that only two processors attained the maximum MSLP for the initial product, while only one processor achieved the maximum MSLP for the final product. None of the processors attained the maximum MSLP for the hygiene indicators. Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes was not detected in products of all the processors. E. coli was detected in 5 out of 6 of the sampling locations, including the final product. E. coli was positive in final products in instances where it was negative in initial products for 3 out of 5 processors, an indication of cross contamination due to poor cleaning and sanitation or inadequate intervention in processing. E. coli was positive in final products in instances where it was negative in initial products for 3 out of 5 processors, an indication of cross contamination due to poor hygiene or inadequate cleaning and sanitation. MAS results revealed that the levels at which FSMS activities had been translated xii in individual companies had a direct impact on the outcome of microbiological performance at selected control points. The levels- whether basic, moderate or advanced- at which FSMS activities have been translated in a company therefore had a direct impact on the outcome of microbiological performance at selected control points. In this way, weaknesses in the system were identified. The mostly moderate FSMS activity levels when assessed in the context riskiness lower the food safety performance of the fresh produce sector. Several recommended control and assurance activities in fresh produce sector should be improved to advanced levels in order to realize a stable and predictable safety output subject to the riskiness of context situation. Key words: Food Safety Management System, Microbial Assessment Scheme, fresh produce industry, context characteristics, control activities, assurance activities, Microbial Safety Level Profile.