Hygienic Design: Necessity and Legal requirement

Mr. Hubertus Lelieveld is an internationally recognized leader of multidisciplinary research and development projects in food industry. He is one of the founders of European Engineering and Design Group (EHEDG), founder and President of Global Harmonization Initiative (GHI), former Secretary-general and President of the European Federation of Food Science & Technology (EFFoST) etc.

Mr. Lelieveld, can you share with us your opinion about the connection between hygienic design and food safety and quality?

Soil, including food product residues, protects microbes against destruction, whether by heat or chemical means. Therefore, equipment must be cleaned before it can be disinfected. Equipment that is not of hygienic design must be taken apart for cleaning and then be reassembled before disinfection, before it can be used again. Even if such equipment is started microbe-free, microbial problem will occur, because of areas in the equipment where product resides for a long time, will allow microbes to multiply. The microbes will be released into the product that is passing these stagnant areas, oddly enough referred to as “dead areas”, while in reality they are full of (microbial) life. If the equipment is used too long before the next cleaning, the numbers of microbes may have reached a harmful concentration, making the food unfit for unsafe for consumption. In addition, the concentration may become so high that also the organoleptic quality of the product is affected.

Which is the significance and impact of EHEDG as organization in creating and spreading of knowledge and know-how regarding hygienic engineering and design?

Until the 1980’s food industries, for safety and quality reasons, used to clean and disinfect their equipment at least daily. For cleaning, the equipment had to be taken apart and cleaning could easily take 4 to 8 hours and was done by hand, usually during the night. To make production more efficient, the time for cleaning had to be reduced, allowing production time to increase. The food industry therefore started to discuss with food machinery manufacturers the development of equipment that would be easier to clean. In the same period, the European Commission was developing regulations that required that food to be produced in a hygienic way. How to do so was left to the industry. EHEDG has developed more than 40 guidelines, which describe in a clear way how to comply with the wishes of the food industry and the food safety regulations. While in the 1980’s hygienic equipment did not exist, currently there is a wide choice of such equipment on the market. This has dramatically changed the food processing industry in the entire world. EHEDG also developed methods to test if equipment meets the hygienic requirements, as explained in detail in one or early guidelines (no. 8). Equipment that meets these requirements can be EHEDG certified by accredited laboratories. All EHEDG certified equipment is listed on the EHEDG website to help food companies to make the right choice. 

Can you tell us something about EHEDG Macedonian Regional section?

The Macedonian section is relatively young, founded in 2009, if I remember correctly. This section has been surprisingly active, organising symposia, translating guidelines, even hosting and organising an EHEDG World Congress and creating an EHEDG journal. The Macedonian section is a model for many other sections, which led to the invitation of Vladimir Kakurinov to discuss his experience during the founding meeting of the regional section in Serbia, a few moths ago. 

You are one of the founders of EHEDG, but also you are founder and president of Global Harmonization Initiative. Can you tell us more about this organization and its goals?

Governments, in almost all countries, have food safety regulations. Food, however, often originates from areas different from where the food is needed. The regulations, however, differ between countries, often significantly. Food that is considered safe in one country is considered unsafe in another country. It happens that healthy food is confiscated and destroyed by a government, because in does not comply with its regulations, while the food is healthy. One of the most harmful legal requirements in many countries is “zero tolerance”, the absence of substances. Judges usually are no toxicologists. They can read the letter of the law and experts will have to admit that a part per trillion (nanogram per kg) is not zero. Leaving the judges no choice other than ordering confiscation and destruction of food, once samples have shown such presence, even if the substance itself is considered harmless. The differences are also a barrier to the import and export of food and food products. The Global Harmonization Initiative (GHI) was founded to eliminate such differences and to achieve that the regulations are based on sound science. Zero tolerance is not sound science, because it makes the analytical technology that is available determining what is allowed, instead of the health hazards. GHI is careful to remain impartial and therefore does not accept funding from industries or governments. To enable global participation, there should not be financial barriers to it’s membership and therefore, membership is free. Members are food scientists, engineers, technologists or nutritionists. They do not represent their employers (industries or governments), but use their conscience in debating food safety issues. They will try to get global consensus about the scientific evidence that should be the basis for food safety regulations. Once such consensus is obtained, it will be published and may then be used by stakeholders to get regulations improved and harmonised. Food scientists are encouraged to join, because it will make a difference.

For more information your readers can visit www.globalharmonization.net.

You are very fruitful author in the area of hygiene issues. As a matter of fact your book Hygiene in food processing: Principles and practice and Handbook of hygiene control in the food industry were bestsellers and the latter was chosen by the Macedonian Government as one of the 1000 scientific books that are regular literature for the students at most renounced Universities in the world. What are you preparing for us in the future?

Thank you for the compliments, but I did not do this on my own, but with the support of many others. There is interesting news, recently a third book on hygiene was published: “Hygienic design of food factories”, edited by my colleague John Holah and me. This book covers all aspects of building food factories: regulatory requirements, site selection, building design, energy supply water, waste, segregation, inspection, insurance, and more. It basically completes the series on hygienic food manufacture. Yasmine Motarjemi, a renowned (probably the) global top expert in food safety management and I are editing a book “food safety management: a practical guide for the food industry”. This will be the ideal addition to the hygiene books, covering all aspects of food safety: hazards, risks, risk communication and risk management. It is intended to be a practical guide and educative material for food safety professionals, students and inspectors. The book will probably be published early 2013.

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