February 2, 2023

Safe food

IFSA unveiled its new World Food Safety Guidelines at the APEX/IFSA Expo. Here Stuart Forster explores their implications

The World Food Safety Guidelines (WFSG) is a comprehensive, 89-page document designed to help the aviation catering industry meet and exceed food safety standards. It’s a complex publication, as reflected by the 118-page implementation guide issued alongside it. 

Delivering safe in-flight catering worldwide is a challenge, and the guidelines have evolved out of collaboration between members of the International Flight Services Association (IFSA), the Airline Catering Association (ACA) and federal regulatory agencies in the USA. The goal has been to establish safe operating standards for catering and consumption onboard. As operational demands change, so too have the guidelines, now revised for the first time in six years, for this fifth and latest edition. 

 The guide overviews food safety management system requirements and protocols to ensure onboard aircraft catering meets consistently high standards of quality and safety. Their implementation ensures more robust food safety processes within caterers and suppliers.

“The implementation guide is intended as a tool for caterers to update and enhance their food safety programmes by incorporating elements of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) scheme and the Food Safety System Certification (FSSC 22000), which is an International Organization for Standardization (ISO)-based, globally recognised standard for best practice. It defines the standards and includes templates for required procedures and forms to support implementation,” explained United Airlines’ Vanessa Lindstrom, an IFSA board member and the co-chair of its Government Affairs and Education Committee which oversaw the new publication.

Future-proofing safety

Canan Mendes, Global Head of Food Safety and Compliance at LSG Group, was part of the collaborative review. She said: “We were striving to develop a future-proof set of guidelines for food safety that was specifically designed for the needs of our industry.” 

Summarising the probable impact, she added: “Additional requirements always open up room for the improvement of the food safety culture that all of our employees contribute to, so we will certainly work on that. Additional training and programmes motivate employees and increase productivity. From an airline perspective, I think they will benefit from new additional management system requirements integrating multi-disciplinary areas on the caterer side, such as sales, culinary, HR and the operation.” 

Both Mendes and fellow collaborator Manjit Sohal, Head of Food Safety – Global Performance and Compliance at dnata Catering accept the guidelines will need to be regularly updated going forward. Sohal said: “The WFSG should be under unremitting review and updated if continuous improvement opportunities are identified or collaboration highlights potential concerns that need to be addressed. The standard is wide-ranging and based on the established principles of Hazard, Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), which is widely used as a systemic preventative approach to food safety.”

Lacking status

WFSG aims to help caterers proactively contain or mitigate risks to avoid negative impacts, but applying the system and using its documentation is voluntary points out special meals manufacturer Marc Warde of Libero Special Meals. He said: “These guidelines should act as a minimum standard for suppliers and caterers. It seems a shame the system is not regarded or officially audited as the official framework and requirement. There are also some omittances, one of which is a specific high-level microbiological framework for ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook foods with values that serve as a minimum guide and allowances for those producing food to the airline industry. Rather more challenging – and not cover – is the use of ingredients which are prohibited in many countries but allowed in others. That is certainly a subject for the next review.”

He also has concerns that there are weaknesses in the guidelines around allergen management as no values as parts per million are cited. “The WFSG is purported as a high-level document but only the most basic information is given on allergen and special meal provision, I think we need experts unassociated with the aviation industry to audit and add perspective.” 

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