International Standards help keep food safe for all

From farms to the plate International Standards ensure consumers enjoy safer food

By Morand Fachot

The safety of food products is a primary concern for the food industry, the authorities and consumers. Over the years it has improved to such an extent that food poisoning outbreaks have become increasingly rare in many countries. This is the result of major improvement in the food safety management system from producers and the processing industry all the way to consumers. IEC International Standards developed for equipment and systems used along the entire chain play a central role in this process.

IR for colouring of meat products Weiss Technik Infrared electroheating is used to process foodstuff

A global problem

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) it is estimated that two million deaths occur every year from contaminated food or drinking water. Many more people are victims of food poisoning every year.

Many IEC Technical Committees (TCs) and Subcommittees (SCs) prepare International Standards for equipment and issues that are immediately associated with health and medical issues. These include the safety of medical equipment, acoustics or medical imagery equipment. A less noticeable but critical aspect of IEC standardization work concerning health issues is to ensure food products and water are safe from the place they are produced all the way down to the end-users.

Very diverse activities

A number of IEC TCs and SCs prepare International Standards for equipment and processes used to increase food production, to clean, sterilize, disinfect and conserve food products and water all along the food chain from the farm to the plates or glasses of consumers. In addition to existing equipment and processes essential to achieve these goals new ones are being discovered all the time and require constant standardization work.

More mouths to feed, safely

As it becomes necessary to increase food production to meet the needs of a growing global population at the most reasonable cost possible, raising production levels in all areas is essential. Using fertilizers and processed animal feed has resulted in higher production levels, but presents a number of drawbacks, including increased levels of chemicals in soil and ground water, and health risks for consumers.

New methods, such as providing additional and selective lighting to improve vegetable growth, increase milk yields in dairy farms or egg production in chicken farms are proving very effective. The recent introduction of light-emitting diode-based (LED) lamps in particular is opening new prospects in these areas. International Standards for lamps and related equipment are prepared by IEC TC 34.

Heat and cold ensure food is safe to consume

Heating is widely used in processing food products prior to bottling or packaging to maintain their quality over a longer period before consumption. Electrical processes, such as microwave volumetric heating, which uses microwaves to heat liquid or semi-solid food products, and electroheating (including infrared electroheating) are used to treat food products to ensure they stay longer safe to consume. IEC TC 27: Industrial electroheating and electromagnetic processing, develops International Standards for equipment for microwave heating, for infrared radiation heating and for induction heating, among other things.

From producers to consumers food products must be kept at low temperatures to prevent them from becoming unfit for human consumption or toxic. The provision of appropriate cooling and freezing equipment is essential to maintain the cold chain and prevent decay and the possible proliferation of pests and diseases.

In the commercial and retail environment keeping food products cool is essential

In homes, fridges have allowed households to keep foodstuff fresh for longer periods and to cut down instances of food poisoning.

International Standards for general and performance requirements of electrical household and similar cooling and freezing appliances are prepared by IEC SC 59M.

Safety first

Using chemicals to disinfect food products and utensils is effective but may present adverse side-effects for humans and the environment. These can be avoided with the use of various electrotechnical processes, such as UV radiation and ultrasonic cleaning and disinfection.

UV radiation is used for water treatment as well as to destroy epidemic bacteria such as E-coli, salmonella and germs directly on eggs, other products or on food processing equipment and plants.

IEC TC 62 develops International Standards for the safety of UV equipment used for water treatment appliances.

As for ultrasonic equipment it is present in the food industry to clean equipment and handle food products. IEC TC 87: Ultrasonics prepares International Standards for equipment and systems in the domain of ultrasonics.

More IEC TCs and SCs are involved in the development of International Standards which are essential for producers, distributors and consumers to ensure food products and water that reach individuals at the end of a long production and supply chain are safe to consume.

Open fridge Refrigerators help keep food safe for consumption
IR for colouring of meat products Weiss Technik Infrared electroheating is used to process foodstuff