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The industry deploys many chemicals in their quest to ensure safe food for consumers, including disinfectants, sanitisers and cleaning agents. In response to concerns about the safety of these important products from the European Commission and consumer groups, GFSI organised a Technical Working Group comprised of scientists and industry experts to address the risks and benefits of chemicals in food hygiene.

In terms of practical outcomes, the Technical Working Group went beyond the requirements of their mandate; they produced not only a two-volume GFSI report of their findings but have also had their work published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Food Protection. In April, the group presented their findings at the European Symposium of the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) in Nantes, and they will present it again at the IAFP Annual Meeting this July in Kentucky.

Today on the GFSI Experts series, Marie-Claude Quentin, GFSI Senior Technical Manager speaks to two hard-working members of the Technical Working Group: John Donaghy, Group Food Safety Microbiologist at Nestlé, and Ludger Grunwald, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Ecolab. Watch their conversation on GFSI Youtube or read the transcript below.

Marie-Claude: Can you please introduce yourself, John?

John Donaghy: I’m the Corporate food safety microbiologist for Nestlé, responsible for global operations in terms of food safety and microbiology.

Marie-Claude: And you, Ludger?

Ludger Grunwald: I’m working for Ecolab in the Regulatory Affairs Department, and in my daily work I’m working with customers and authorities to ensure safe food and clean water.

Marie-Claude: You were involved in the GFSI Technical Working Group on the use of chemicals in food hygiene. Why was this a hot topic?

John: Cleaning, sanitation and disinfection play a key role in assuring food safety from a microbiological perspective, and obviously as part of that we use lots of disinfectants, sanitation agents, and cleaning agents to assure food safety. However, we must be aware of the unintended consequences of using chemicals with regard to the possibility of traces being left in the product. Now we see some noise around the fact that biocides could contribute to antimicrobial resistance, and obviously antimicrobial resistance is a very hot topic from a global public health perspective. And so by joining the group, we were able to address both the use and risk assessment of chemicals and food processing, but also the evidence around their link to antimicrobial resistance.

Marie-Claude: What were the objectives of the Technical Working Group on chemicals in food hygiene?

Ludger: It was a great experience to be in this group, and we had two main objectives. One was the question of residues of cleaning products and disinfectants, and the other was on microbial resistance. On the first one, we had to look at if there is any risk when we’re talking about the use of hygiene products. We looked at them in more detail to do the risk assessment approach, and we developed a guidance document. Volume 1 is very practical, where you really can look at what needs to be done to use hygiene products, disinfectants and cleaning products, and Volume 2 is more about when you’re looking at the risk assessment, when you want to create your own risk management in retail and food manufacturing facilities.

Marie-Claude: What were the practical outcomes of the Technical Working Group?

John: Back in 2008, the European Commission reported that biocides may contribute to antimicrobial resistance. Since then there have been some academic studies in this area. What we did as part of the Technical Working Group is that we assessed the literature that has been produced in that interim period over the last decade, and we looked at some meta-analyses that had been performed. We grouped that together, we drew the conclusions from those studies and then we decided to publish it as a scientific publication. Because it’s one thing to look at various scientific evidences and peer-reviewed papers, and it’s another thing [to see] what does it actually mean for the industry and real-life circumstance. We also did not want it to be an opinionated piece. We wanted our work to be peer-reviewed in a scientific journal. So we collected all of the information that was available, and we produced not only the GFSI Report in relation to the topic, but we also submitted the work to the Journal of Food Protection. So that was really the hard outcome of the Working Group.

Marie-Claude: Is this topic heavily discussed in industry?

Ludger: I think that it is a topic which is heavily discussed. When we are looking at consumer perception, cleaning products should not end up in food. So that’s very clear. Secondly, when we are looking from the regulator point of view, they are setting limits, and there is for sure the health point of view that everything should be safe. And all this together is written there in the two volumes of the guidance document.

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Both volumes of the Technical Working Group’s report on Chemicals in Food Hygiene are available now in the GFSI Library as open-access resources. To see members of the group explain the work behind the report, be sure to catch their presentation at the Annual Meeting of the IAFP on July 21–24 in Louisville, Kentucky.

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