CAIRO: Quality in the local food industry is a major concern in terms of safety, as well as a huge hurdle to exporting success. Only around 80 local food producing companies follow the international hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP), a necessary requirement to export. Other companies do not even sustain basic safety standards or the prerequisite programs of HACCP.
“The HACCP system allows for the identification of conceivable, reasonably expected hazards, even where failures have not previously been experienced, explains David Rushton, a Dubai-based food safety consultant, “It is therefore particularly useful for new operations.
Referring to manufacturers that lack the basic requirements, Rushton says, “In most cases, these companies grew without competitive pressure. Noting that many of these companies are “based on small, family-owned operations, he said they kept “their markets because of low import volumes and lack of customer choice.
But as the Egyptian market expands, other concerns require that local industry fall in line with international safety standards. It is no longer a matter of aiming to serve the export market. A change in consumer behavior has propelled an increasing need for better standards on a local level.
Rushton notes the change in lifestyle, with consumers increasingly opting for fast food, restaurants, catering services and ready-made products. With the increased risk of food and environment contamination (noting the outbreaks of food-borne diseases), the need to apply international safety standards has begun to impose itself on local manufacturers.
“It is this climate of increasing concern about food safety, the lack of sufficient resources and the recognition of the limitations of traditional approaches to food safety assurance that have accentuated the need for a cost-effective food safety assurance method, says Rushton.
During a seminar entitled the “Opportunities and Challenges of the Food Industries in Egypt and the Middle East, Rushton highlighted the importance of adopting a system similar to HACCP.
During the seminar, DuPont, a leading international player in industrial scientific research and inventions, the Chamber of Food Industries (CFI) and representatives of the sector’s production companies discussed the different techniques and approaches to raising standards.
DuPont, with over two centuries in the scientific research field and 25 percent of its investments going to the food sector, sought dialogue with local producers during the seminar.
Amr El Moniem, country leader for DuPont Egypt, asked the present producers to explain the problems they are facing or the features they want to add to the experts. By communicating their concerns, El Moneim adds, the company would offer solutions to these demands and consequently help local production reach international standards.
Avian flu is one of the areas in which Dupont has already offered scientific solutions. Upon a request by the United Nations, the company is providing Egypt and 68 other countries with its Virkon S Veterinary disinfectant that limits the spread of the H5N1 virus. In addition to use at the Giza Zoo, the disinfectant will be distributed to personnel in Egypt’s poultry processing industry.
“Look for added value and technical service, not price. You’ll save more, says Wissam Bissar, the Egypt sales manager for Napco, a Saudi food packaging company. Highlighting packaging as one of the main concerns in the quality of food products, Bissar stressed that manufacturers should ask for solutions, not packages.
But to urge manufacturers to adopt the sometimes-costly standards and procedures requires work. The role of pushing for legislation enforcing certain standards was discussed during the seminar. Yousri El-Tinawy, CFI general manager, says that establishing a food safety authority to solve the problem of conflicting monitoring units is not under study.
Legislation however, is not always behind a surge in quality or safety procedure awareness, Rushton notes. Reflecting on Britain’s experience, he said it was only when the middle consumers (the retail companies connecting factories with end-consumers) demanded certain requirements in the products they use that manufacturing standards went up.
Not just retail, but end consumers should play a role, according to El-Tinawy. Noting that Egyptians spend 50 to 55 percent of their income on food and beverages, it is surprising that consumer awareness of safety and hygienic measures for food products are relatively low.
While raising general awareness requires media campaigns and other nationwide efforts, El-Tinawy says consumers should at least point to and object to violations in retail stores, such as improper storage and selling expired products.