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Developing a stakeholders' guide on the vulnerability of food and feed chains to dangerous agents and substances

Final Report Summary - ECHAIN (Developing a Stakeholders'Guide on the vulnerability of food and feed chains to dangerous agents and substances)

Food chains are the collective links of production (including raw material production), processing and distribution of food. These chains are becoming more and more complex networks in a dynamic and global environment. Food is a basic need and its safety is of great importance to consumers. People expect the food they eat to be safe and suitable for consumption. Food borne illnesses are at best unpleasant, and at worst, fatal. The implementation of comprehensive food quality and safety assurance systems enhances consumers' confidence and the sustainability of the European Union (EU) food industry, while also minimising food spoilage.
% LThe three-year EU funded project SIGMA CHAIN with 11 partners, including 1 non-EU partner (ITAL, Brazil), developed a methodology to identify, assess and address vulnerabilities in the food chain. In general, vulnerabilities can be divided into two principal categories:
(1) contamination by a dangerous substance, whether chemical, microbiological, or physical; and
(2) loss of information regarding the product on its journey through the chain.
A novel stepwise procedure was adopted that guides practitioners through the process in a systematic way, within applicable regulatory frameworks and existing practices. Vulnerability identification and assessment, according to the SChain approach, can be used to investigate the whole food chain or specific parts of it, in order to minimise risks or optimise production and processing. SChain developed a stakeholders' guide which is a practical manual detailing how to identify and address vulnerabilities for specific food products or food chains - copies are available free of charge from

The stakeholders' guide addresses chain vulnerabilities problem through the following stages:
1. Map the specific food (and feed) chain in some detail to allow a systematic review of the information to be collected: Information to be collected includes possible contaminants, their occurrence, best manufacturing practice, relevant legislation, and more. Access to good sources of data is key to the process. Addressing the lack of data, particularly for many chemical contaminants, is a key recommendation of the project that needs further concerted action at a pan-European level.
2. Identify vulnerable links in the chain: The main focus should be on entry points of contamination and points in the chain where information can be lost.
3. Rank the vulnerability: The SChain project developed a new risk ranking approach to rank potential contaminants and the subsequent assessment of the potential vulnerabilities is based on a novel application of failure mode and effects analysis to food chains.

The methodology developed within the SChain project to identify and address vulnerabilities in the food chain was validated in a practical manner by its application to four major case studies for water, poultry, farmed salmon and milk powder, carried out by the project partners. For practitioners of food safety, the stakeholders' guide represents a valuable tool to identify and address vulnerabilities for specific food products or food chains.