Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Reginald Budhan, says the food safety certification course being offered by the University of the West Indies (UWI) is vital to the country meeting international requirements, particularly United States (US) regulations.
"The US constitutes one of our most important export markets. This training programme is particularly critical to us at this time, as it will assist our agro-processors to be in conformity with US food safety regulations," Mr. Budhan stated, as he addressed the opening ceremony for the 'Better Process Control School’ course on Monday, January 9, at the UWI's Mona campus.
Designed specifically for supervisory and managerial personnel in the food industry, food inspectors and other individuals involved in quality control, the food safety certification programme will provide instruction in 15 topics, which are examined for certification. It is part of the regulatory requirement in Jamaica and the US for food industry personnel.
The five-day course is particularly important as the country prepares to meet the new regulations under the US Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the increased inspections to be carried out under the new Act by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), commencing this month.
The FSMA, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in January last year, is an amendment to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. It provides a legislative mandate requiring science-based preventative control across the food supply chain, rather than a reactive approach to food safety problems.
The amendment also resulted from increased international trade in food and the risk of food-borne diseases.
Mr. Budhan further noted that the programme will enable the participants, who work in agro-processing operations, to manage the plant in a manner that is acceptable to US authorities, "so that when the regulators come…they will be satisfied that the products are being produced in Jamaica (in) plants that are certified, plants that have managers that are trained in this process, (so) those products would be safe to enter the US market."
The Permanent Secretary pointed out that today’s global food market has placed greater onus on governments to undertake the regulatory responsibility of ensuring that the food being traded inside and outside their countries’ borders is safe for consumption, which is why certifying food processors is so critical.
He said that as part of its response to the FSMA, Jamaica has established a national task force to drive the process of ensuring the country's preparedness to satisfy the FDA's requirements as elaborated in the Act.
"This multi-sector group, among its other responsibilities, is assisting in the sourcing of funds to enable both the private and public sectors to upgrade to the required level as well as to encourage, through a corporate mentoring programme, large successful companies to mentor smaller companies in need of development," he said.
Mr. Budhan further noted that the Ministry also took an important policy decision last year to significantly intensify its training of companies in the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to enable companies to be certified and laboratories to become accredited.
In addition, the Permanent Secretary noted that a National Food Safety Policy was approved by Cabinet last year.
The UWI has been offering the course in collaboration with several US universities for the past 10 years. The Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) has since come on board to provide technical support to UWI “and is now acting in the position as a kind of regulator on behalf of the US," Mr. Budhan said.
"The Ministry is very proud that Jamaica is able to do this training on its own now, and this is something that the Ministry is fully behind… the programme is now being supported entirely by the Bureau and the UWI, with occasional quality control checks by the US authorities," he added.
Course Co-ordinator, Donna Minott-Kates, said the UWI has been offering the course since 1995 at the request of the US authorities.
"Each time it (the course) is offered by the UWI, we have to contact the FDA to indicate beforehand, who the lecturers will be when the course will be offered, so that they can have it registered and therefore the participants are now certified to export low acid and acidified canned foods to the US. So the FDA will have a list of those processors, who have been certified as having satisfactorily completed this course," she told JIS News.
Approximately 57 participants from 27 small and large food processing companies are taking the intensive course, which comprise the sitting of 15 examinations.