The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has hosted regulators from different countries to discuss how to prepare for food safety crises and manage incidents.

It was the first face-to-face meeting of the International Heads of Food Agencies Forum (IHFAF) since the COVID-19 pandemic. The group was created in 2020 by FSAI, the Saudi Food and Drug Authority and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

Opened by Hildegarde Naughton, Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing and National Drugs Strategy, the event featured 17 regulatory agencies from countries including Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, China, Morocco, Singapore, Germany and the United Kingdom.

The forum was also attended by officials from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and Codex Alimentarius Commission.

Ensuring safe food
Sessions included sharing information on the systems in place to identify risks and threats, a reflection on lessons learned from some major food safety and food fraud incidents and examples of best practices and common pitfalls to avoid.

CEO of the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, Dr. Hisham bin Saad Aljadhey, chaired one of the sessions. Participants reviewed best practices in communication during crises from the perspective of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), and the communication system on risks and crises of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Officials from Saudi Arabia also met with people from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), and the Singapore Food Agency.

Naughton said she hoped the event would provide opportunities to ensure safe food by protecting the health and wellbeing of consumers.

“As our food supply chains grow increasingly complex, international relations and coordination play such a crucial role in maintaining food safety. By working together, our countries and organizations can ensure the safety, integrity and availability of global food supplies,” she said.

“It is vital that the World Food Safety Day message: ‘Food safety is everyone’s business,’ filters down to every stakeholder – growers, processors, transporters, stores, distributors, sellers, and servers – so that they continue to play their part.”

Attendees stressed the importance of ongoing engagement to understand and address new and emerging risks and strengthen food safety systems.

IHFAF helps ensure food regulators are equipped to adapt to changes in consumer behavior, in food production practices, in technologies and in environmental conditions impacting food safety and quality. It also aims to see that decisions and regulatory measures support consumer protection.

Knowledge sharing
Pamela Byrne, chief executive of FSAI, emphasized the important role that international collaboration can play in preparing for, and responding to, food safety incidents.

“We are stronger together in the face of food safety crises. The work of the International Heads of Food Agencies Forum has been crucial in building our global network, learning from other countries, and sharing our expertise and experience in ensuring swift and effective responses to any potential emerging risks and threats to the global food chain,” she said. 

“By implementing systems that identify signals of potential issues and sharing information, we can take a proactive approach to assessing and managing risk in the food system, which ultimately protects the health and wellbeing of consumers worldwide. Collaboration and knowledge sharing among international food safety agencies is key to learning from each other and continuously improving our responses to future crises, ultimately strengthening global food safety systems.”

The third annual meeting of IHFAF was held virtually by Australia in March 2022. It featured presentations from the FAO, Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, Singapore Food Agency, and the Food Standards Agency.

IHFAF is different than the Heads of Food Safety Agencies (HoA), which represents bodies in Europe responsible for food safety risk management. HoA meets twice a year, usually in the country that holds the presidency of the European Council, and has working groups on open data, private assurance schemes, and food fraud. The latest meeting was earlier this month in Stockholm.

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