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 Scientific Committee of FASFC was asked to examine whether the presence of a Private Assurance Scheme (PAS) can have an effect on the food safety guarantee of operators in Belgium.

Inspection results between PAS-certified companies and non-PAS-certified firms were compared. Because of a lack of data, only two types of PAS (IFS Food and FSSC 22000) in the processing sector and at slaughterhouses were covered.

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 sector and slaughterhouses were used in comparisons. These results were recorded from 2019 to 2021. Findings of inspections can be favorable, favorable with comments or unfavorable and measures taken after visits include infringement notices and warnings.

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

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

Inspection results and further work
Of more than 7,400 operators, 14 had both IFS and FSSC 22000, 501 had IFS only and 160 FSSC only while more than 6,700 had neither or used a different Private Assurance Scheme (PAS). More than 800 firms had a validated SCS, for 411 it was partially validated and not validated for 6,200. 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 non-favorable if the firm had an SCS but not a PAS. If it had both, almost the same number were favorable and 235 were non-favorable. 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 non-favorable but almost 8,000 were positive. With only a PAS, 49 inspections were non-compliant and 587 were favorable.

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

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

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

The Heads of the European Food Safety Agencies group have produced a guidance document on private assurance 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 is not the first time using food safety findings from industry and third parties have been discussed to help resource-stretched regulators. 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 assessment and use of vTPA programs.

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