A scheme to improve the traceability of products in companies’ supply chains has been upgraded using a trio of international standards as Hong Kong consumers grow increasingly worried about food safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The local branch of global supply chain standards organisation GS1 teamed up with third-party quality auditor SGS Hong Kong to launch the upgraded Quality Food Scheme+.
Under the new programme, companies will be assessed not only under the GS1 Global Traceability Standard (GTS), but also the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) and the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) systems. The audit system will rank applicants into three tiers: silver, gold and, at the top, diamond.
The city’s Centre for Food Safety has issued more than 75 food irregularity alerts since the start of the year involving seafood, vegetables and sauces imported from around the world, which were subsequently taken off shelves.
Anna Lin, chief executive of GS1 Hong Kong, said local citizens had become extra cautious when purchasing food as the Covid-19 pandemic affected the global food supply chain.
“Customers want to know where their food comes from, how it’s produced and how it has been transported and handled … before they can eat at ease,” Lin said.
Several Covid-19 scares have cropped up around food since the pandemic began. In August, Danish Crown, Europe’s largest pork exporter shut its facility near Copenhagen after nearly 150 employees tested positive for the coronavirus. The company clarified on social media that exports from the plant were suspended, and that all products on sale in Hong Kong were made during or before June.
Earlier in June, state-run newspapers reported that the coronavirus was detected on chopping boards used for imported salmon at a Beijing market. But fears surrounding salmon were later dismissed in Hong Kong after the city’s Centre for Food Safety found that 16 samples of imported salmon tested negative.
Patrick Tong, deputy general manager of Tong Shun Hing Poultry, a major importer of chilled poultry to Hong Kong and Macau, said the company’s in-depth analysis and tracking of all stakeholders involved in the production process helped it strengthen its supply chain amid the pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit, consumers have become very concerned about food safety, which is why we immediately implemented safety measures across the [value chain],” Tong said, adding that the poultry company has been tracking the health of workers in Hong Kong and China, and even installed Global Positioning System (GPS) trackers in their logistics trucks that go back and forth across the border for contact tracing.
May Chung, general manager of Nestlé Hong Kong, said that participating in the scheme has helped the company review its internal systems and commitment to food safety.
“With the recent Covid-19 situation, food safety is one of the main key areas the public will be very attentive to,” Chung said, emphasising that companies needed to continually evaluate their end-to-end supply chains and keep up to date with new control standards.
The Quality Food Scheme has been running for five years, with 20 companies recognised for their commitment to food traceability and food safety in Hong Kong. They included bigger food and catering chains such as Cafe de Coral Holdings and Maxim’s Caterers, and food retailers such as Aeon Stores and DCH Food Mart.
GS1 Hong Kong itself was founded as a non-profit organisation by the city’s largest business chamber, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, in 1989.
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