Stepping Up Food Sanitation and Safety Controls
A recent spate of incidents involving the use of expired raw materials and non-edible industrial additives by some big-brand food companies have tarnished Taiwan’s reputation as the “Kingdom of Delicacies”, casting a long shadow over food safety. The Control Yuan launched an own-motion investigation into the current inspection and monitoring methods. (Case No. 1020832576)
Control Yuan’s investigative report found that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MHW) had failed to address the obvious inadequacy of the two external inspection mechanisms, namely the “Good Hygiene Practice” and “Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point” . The FDA merely relied upon the manufacturers’ self-monitoring, without conducting any follow-up checks and inspections. Furthermore, regular inspections had been reduced to mere formality and selective inspections were seldom conducted. Such negligence has not only led to major problems in food safety management and control, it has also provided excuses for the businesses at fault to evade responsibilities.
The report also highlighted failure to synchronize and share information between three online platforms, namely the “Food Manufacturers Platform” (fadenbook.fda.gov.tw) launched by the FDA, the national chemical cloud information system managed by the Ministry of Labor, and the toxic chemicals database run by the Environmental Protection Administration. As the three platforms are not connected, it is impossible to build a one-stop shop for finding information and comparison purposes, preventing effective monitoring of the raw materials used for industrial and food products. Moreover, the FDA’s “Regulation Governing Rewards for Reporting of Food Sanitation Offenses” has been hard to implement, as seen in the low number of reward recipients over the past few years.
The Control Yuan has issued corrective measures to the Ministry of Health and Welfare and urged the Executive Yuan to make the necessary improvements, including better information sharing between government agencies, more effective regulations, stricter monitoring on major food companies, mandating employment of a proportionate number of licensed food technicians by all businesses beyond a certain scale, and strengthening internal control of sanitation and safety.
In response to the Control Yuan’s investigation, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has made the following improvements:
1. The FDA has demanded that all food manufacturers step up on food safety and sanitation management in order to comply with the standards of GHP, and industries with high risks of food poisoning, such as aquaculture, processed meat, food packaging and dairy processing industries to implement HACCP.
2. In 2011, the FDA issued funding to support local public health bureaus in hiring contract inspectors to check GHP implementation, as a part of the Rebuilding Food and Drug Safety Project under the CLEAR strategies .
3. In 2013, the FDA held a series of workshops to enhance specialized skills and work efficiency of the inspectors.
4. In 2012, the FDA launched an online registry of food additives. As of November 10, 2013, a total of 650 manufacturers and 22,504 products have been registered. The FDA has revised the Guidelines for Food Manufacturer Registration and published a list of food manufacturers that are required to register online.
5. The MHW has revised and promulgated the “Regulation Governing Rewards for Reporting of Food Sanitation Offenses” with a huge increase on the amount of reporting reward.
In 2013, the MHW conducted inspections on different food businesses to find out how many of them employ food technicians: Twelve of the ninety-five aquaculture businesses inspected employ licensed food technicians; twenty-five of the one hundred and sixteen meat processors inspected employ food technicians; and ninety-two of the one hundred and fifty-one food packaging factories inspected employ food technicians. The MHW has called on public health bureaus at the local level to monitor the employment of a proportionate number of licensed food technicians by the aforementioned businesses.