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Trailblazing quality and safety monitoring [Interview]

From raw materials and the hygiene standards of bulk transportation to organic certification – the fruit juice industry has been a trailblazer when it comes to quality and safety monitoring. We interviewed Aintzane Esturo, Technical Manager and Head of Communications at SGF International, to find out about what lies ahead.

How has quality and safety monitoring evolved over the last couple of years in the industry in general? What are the industry’s main concerns?

‘The industry ́s main concern without any doubt is the safety of the food products and to avoid any negative impact on consumers ́ health. The quality and safety monitoring has been much improved in the last years. Better and quicker traceability checks are done with the aid of IT - tools and thanks to technological developments foodstuff can be analysed with quicker and more sensitive methods.’

‘The fruit juice industry works to avoid any possible pesticide residues, heavy metals, presence of pathogens or other toxic compounds in juices and nectars. At SGF International we do regular food safety campaigns on products bought randomly in the market and it can be said that fruit juices are safer and more nutritious than ever.’

Within the fruit juice sector what are the main challenges faced with regard to food quality and safety?

‘The fruit juice value chain is quite complex and that leads to challenges in tracing their safety and quality. Regarding safety we monitor the pesticides/herbicides and heavy metal traces at farm level that could be passed on to the juices. As for quality we make sure that the products meet the optimal nutritional values and that there is no spoilage. One of the challenges we are facing now and which affects the authenticity is the differentiation between organic and conventional products.’

Aintzane Esturo.jpgWhat new food & label regulations does your sector have to take into consideration? How will they impact certification?

‘Since the implementation of the Regulation on the provision of food information to consumers (Regulation (EU) 1169/2011) had to be followed officially in 2016, many industries faced difficulties in adapting to changes regarding labeling of products for the consumer.‘

‘With regards to products from our industry especially slogans regarding health and nutritional benefits - the so called ‘Health Claims’ have to be monitored carefully within certification. Added value products are a trend and should therefore be looked at closely to stay within the set rules. In the future most likely labeling the origin of the foodstuff will become mandatory for all products in order to help the consumer choose between the products. Claiming a false origin is also a fraud since it leads to consumer confusion.’

Which new methods or programmes for certification are you developing?

‘As I mentioned before, the fruit juice value chain is quite complex and it is integrated by different stakeholders. SGF International was created in 1974 to avoid adulteration and fraud in the juice sector. It started controlling just the finished products in the German market. The control scope has been widened little by little.’

‘In 1986 the voluntary control system was established and controlling was done directly at the bottlers ́ filling facilities. It was seen that sometimes the quality problems were coming directly from the raw materials, so in 1989 we started controlling the juices and juice concentrate producers.’

‘In 1999 the hygiene audits were implemented to assure the safety of the products. In this regard, the sector has identified a gap at the bulk transport level. SGF has developed a specific control system to assure that the tank cleaning stations and the tankers are properly cleaned, thus avoiding cross - contaminations and possible further issues. This system, although developed for the juice industry can be also used by the whole food industry (liquid or powder raw materials transported in bulk). We are now working on closing the last gap in the value chain through getting the food transport sector involved in these control activities.’

As consumers become more aware of labelling and certifications etc., how will this impact the F&B industry and your sector in particular?

‘The SGF certification is a B2B certification. The consumer already has hundreds of logos on their products and most of the time they do not understand what is behind these. SGF International contributes to assure that the consumers in Europe get a safe and authentic fruit juice, without having to look at further labels. This can only be achieved when all the actors in the value chain work together.’

From a food quality and safety perspective, what are you predictions for the next 3-5 years?

‘Although the controls on safety are becoming better and stricter, still the risk is there. The tendency of producing faster and cheaper increases the risk of safety, quality and authenticity.’

‘In my opinion, control methods will be developed to be more accurate and therefore, to have better regulations. However the trend will be to focus on preventive and mitigation measures to reduce the identified risk. In this sense, I can say that the fruit juice industry has been a front runner for many years.’

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