Hygienic Design Must Also Function Internationally
The implementation of the European guidelines and food laws is the responsibility of the companies themselves. However, your organisation wants to provide uniform action concepts for this purpose, taking into account applicable regulations. By what means?
Hein Timmermann: One focus is on our guidelines, which cover the area of manufacturers of technical equipment and that of food producers as users. These guidelines, which now number over 50, cover materials, surfaces, equipment such as valves, sensors, filters or entire processing systems for particulate products and liquids, among other things. It's important to harmonise them so that there are no contradictions when topics overlap.
To what extent have the guidelines been adopted in different countries?
Adwy van den Berg: The documents are freely available to our members at no charge. That makes it difficult to assess this in terms of numbers. A good example is perhaps Poland, where EHEDG has been present again since last year. Despite many food businesses, our guidelines and even the topic of hygienic design are still little known even in the country in general. The situation is different for large, international corporations. For example, Coca-Cola is headquartered in America but also has a plant in Poland. It goes without saying that the Group's quality management strives to comply with the guidelines, just as it does elsewhere. Another example is DSM from the Netherlands. When they started building a plant in South America, they asked the EHEDG in advance what guidelines they should provide to their local partners. This kind of thing is not the norm. However, it shows that food companies have our work and recommendations in mind, even when conducting international activities.
Otherwise, in terms of the number of guidelines sold to non-members, in 2022 most orders came from Germany. This was followed by Ireland and the UK, Norway, Finland, ... outside Europe, Japan, Chile, Brazil and Argentina were furthest ahead.
Can something nevertheless be said about the development based on this?
Adwy van den Berg: Theoretically, yes. However, an objective comparison with previous years fails because of the Corona years. On the one hand, this concerns the work on the guidelines and the exchange between the working groups: Usually, the guidelines are revised every five years and adapted to the current situation or challenges. The EHEDG relies on actual meetings of the respective working groups - direct exchange is simply always more effective. Since 2020, most of these activities have had to be put on hold and limited to online events. But now they're running again. This is also reflected in new documents on topics such as chocolate processing as a working area with special product-specific requirements or robotics and sustainability as an interdisciplinary challenge. On the other hand, it concerns the two other focal points of our work: practical training and certification in theory and according to modern, practical test procedures. Here as well, a lot is happening. Danone, for example, has been an official company member for just two years. And management also wants employees in non-European branches, such as Indonesia, to have been trained by EHEDG experts. Indonesian staff have already been brought on board and now have access to the guidelines. With a corresponding number of people, we are also happy to provide customised training directly on site. A big advantage is that we often have experts with good language skills of the respective country in our pool. Once again, it's evident that networking plays a major role for us, and not by chance!
Can problems arise if companies want to work with EHEDG guidelines and at the same time seek certification according to one of the major food safety standards?
Adwy van den Berg: Absolutely not! Although the EHEDG is organised as a foundation, it's considered one of the leading knowledge centres for hygienic design and is recognised worldwide. The established standards such as IFS, BCR and FSSC 22000 always use a risk assessment as a basis - and our principles have definitely been incorporated into these. This is appropriate partly because the standards are more of a general framework for action. Our guidelines, on the other hand, say why, how and by what means the necessary steps can be implemented in concrete terms. At the same time, they should intentionally have general validity, i.e. be equally applicable in different countries.
Hein Timmermann: We also see great progress in the development of corresponding hygienic equipment, some of which will certainly be presented at Anuga FoodTec: The EHEDG logo increasingly shows that machines, instruments or accessories comply with the guidelines. We're currently working on guidelines for the construction and maintenance of entire factories. Either way, it can be said that membership is worthwhile. The costs incurred are always recovered - and often very clearly and quickly. If only because the companies save time for cleaning and because many recalls can be prevented.
The EHEDG also becomes politically involved where appropriate and otherwise attracts attention with its major annual conferences. Do you have any news about this?
Hein Timmermann: Here, for example, a position paper by our experts on the risk posed by PFAS, i.e. perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl compounds, can be mentioned. A balance must be found between sustainability, safety and innovation in the food industry. There's no question about measures for protecting health and the environment. This also applies to polyfluorinated alkyls. However, the EHEDG considers it useful to make a risk-oriented distinction here. Especially the fluorinated polymers such as VDF and VDF-co-HFP are among the less hazardous substances, as they are stable and not soluble in water. The EHEDG has therefore proposed that this subgroup be exempted from the general PFAS ban. This also applies to the use of fluoropolymer seals in closed machines in the food industry. This position paper was recently sent to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) - with an offer on working together to find a solution to the problem.
Keyword: Congress. Improving food safety and quality as well as productivity and sustainability will again form the basis of the agenda - just like at the last congress in September, which was attended by more than 600 stakeholders from 74 countries. In 2024, the congress will be held in Nantes on 2 and 3 October. Among other things, this specifically involves the topics of microbiology, toxicology and "open cleaning".
Adwy van den Berg und Hein Timmermann