The Belgian food safety authority has provided incentives for food business operators to set-up a certified self-checking system (SCS), based upon good practices and HACCP principles. A selection of food processing companies in Belgium was invited to take part in a self-assessment study to evaluate the effect of SCS certification on the performance of an implemented food safety management system (FSMS) and on company’s microbiological food safety output according to their sector and company size and to compare the added value of SCS against voluntary standard certification. Results revealed that the majority of food processing companies (90%) were already certified for a voluntary standard such as BRC or IFS prior to or next to the Belgian SCS certification (50%). Although five clusters could be identified among the eighty-two participating companies in the performance profiles of their food safety management system and microbiological food safety output, overall no significant difference could be identified between SCS certified and non-certified SCS food processing companies. However, assurance activities (i.e. set-up of sampling plan, validation and verification of the FSMS) were elaborated at a more advanced, tailored level in SCS certified companies. No significant differences were found according to company size, but depending on the sector more robust FSMS could be identified (e.g. animal products processing sector). The benefits of the widespread presence of a third party certified food safety management system (whether voluntary standard or national SCS) as a basis for governing food safety are also reflected in the favourable inspection results obtained by Belgian food safety authority (76.90%e78.71% compliance in years 2009e2011; 12 823 SCS certified companies being visited) at the processing level. Whereas higher non-compliance in inspection results is noted (47.55e52.45% compliance in years 2009e2011; 4 415 SCS certified companies being visited) in the distribution sector, encompassing a large amount of small food service operations and retail outlets. The introduction of certified SCS is still exceptional in that sector (4.11% in 2011) and the introduction of voluntary standards is less common due to lack of incentives, capacity and resources. Thus, there are indications that a certification system based on audits is an appropriate approach in pro-actively governing food safety and supporting the implementation of control and assurance activities at advanced level, hence increasing the robustness of the food safety management systems as a basis for good microbiological food safety output.
- processing plants