Freshcare update

Freshcare was developed by the fresh produce industry, in response to the need for a practical, cost effective, industry focused food safety program. Based on Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), Freshcare was designed to allow implementation by all grower businesses, regardless of crop, size or location. Freshcare continues to operate as an industry-led, not-for-profit program.

Over the last 16 years, the Freshcare Food Safety and Quality Standard (FSQ) has undergone regular reviews, to ensure it remains relevant to industry and complies with the requirements of its many users including growers and packers supplying to the processing, retail and export market sectors. 

Mangoes in a Freshcare accredited tray.

Mangoes in a Freshcare accredited tray.

Freshcare Environmental Standards were developed in 2006 and service both the fresh produce and wine grape sectors. Now in its 16th year of operation, Freshcare’s practical approach to helping growers and packers provide an assurance to customers that their produce is safe to eat and has been grown sustainably, has seen over 5,500 fresh produce and wine grape grower businesses adopt the program, making it Australia’s largest and most widely adopted on farm assurance program. 

Freshcare Food Safety and Quality Moves to Accredited Certification

Since its launch in July 2000, Freshcare has operated as a private industry standard, a structure that up until now has been adequate to meet the requirements of all stakeholders.

However, for Freshcare to remain an approved standard in the fresh produce sector, the program now needs to operate under a more formal structure of certification body approval and compliance, as an accredited certification.

Under accredited certification, an independent ‘check of the checkers’ takes place to provide a greater certainty and consistency of process. This will ensure that all certification bodies audit their clients consistently, in accordance with Freshcare’s clearly defined standards, in an impartial manner and always based on evidence; with the auditors from those accredited certification bodies required to formally demonstrate competence to audit to that agreed standard.

Whilst much of the rigour enforced through accredited certification was already in place when Freshcare operated as a private scheme, the independent recognition of the process through accreditation is key to the ongoing acceptance of Freshcare as a certification standard.

In February 2016, Freshcare FSQ was approved by The Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ) to operate as an accredited standard under ISO/IEC17065:2012; all Freshcare FSQ certificates will transition to accredited certification by mid-2017 as individual audits fall due.

Accreditation: verifies that a certification body has an appropriate management system in place to ensure they manage an agreed certification process, consistently and in accordance with agreed criteria.

Certification: is the process through which a certification body confirms a participating business has the appropriate systems in place to demonstrate compliance with the requirements of the Freshcare standard.

Freshcare Benchmarking to the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)

A key driver in Freshcare’s move to accredited certification is the retailer driven requirement for Freshcare to be benchmarked to the Global Food Safety Initiative.

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), provides an international ‘benchmark model’ against which other standards can be assessed. The GFSI process enables customers to accept fresh produce from suppliers with any food safety system that is recognised as equivalent to GFSI - knowing that an agreed standard of compliance will have been achieved. 

If everything goes to plan, Freshcare hopes to be fully GFSI benchmarked by mid / late 2017.

Freshcare Standards – New Editions 

In 2016, Freshcare launched the fourth edition of its Food Safety and Quality Standard (FSQ4), and the third edition of the Freshcare Environmental Standard (ENV3).

The new standards are more practical and streamlined, have a better structural alignment and have improved access to guidance material. 

All audits from 1 January 2017 must be undertaken to the new edition standards FSQ4 and ENV3.

Copies of the Freshcare FSQ4 and ENV3 Standards can be downloaded from the Freshcare website: www.freshcare.com.au

Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme (HARPS)—the Driver for Change

One of the most commonly heard criticisms of quality assurance in the fresh produce sector is the duplication of systems or standards that an individual business may face when supplying more than one major customer. 

Whilst the systems / standards may be almost identical in content, the fact that no one system is accepted by all customers usually results in extended audit time, extended reporting time and significant cost.

Certification bodies try to equip their auditors to deal with this duplication, but for large producers, supplying several of the major retail chains and / or food service providers, the duplication in compliance is often a costly, time consuming nightmare. It is not uncommon for a business to have to demonstrate compliance to five separate, yet similar standards.

The QA Harmonisation project funded by HIA was undertaken to address this issue in the fresh produce sector. The project has been supported by the five biggest grocery retailers in Australia: Coles, Woolworths, ALDI, Costco and IGA. 

It is estimated that the fresh produce market share covered by these businesses is approximately 70% of the total Australian market. 

The result of the QA Harmonisation project is the Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme (HARPS). HARPS has resulted in the alignment of the major grocery retailers in Australia accepting a suite of food safety standards (including Freshcare FSQ4), that will allow growers and packers to complete a single audit against a single standard, that will satisfy all stakeholders, rather than audits against multiple standards.

For more information on HARPS visit www.harpsonline.com.au.

Freshcare Announces GLOBALG.A.P. Benchmark Initiative

Australian growers looking to enter key export markets are set to save significant cost and complication once global and domestic food safety certification requirements are combined. 

The popular industry led Freshcare FSQ4 will benchmark against the widely accepted GLOBALG.A.P. Standard to provide an export market version for Australian growers.

The new initiative being delivered through HIA – using vegetable industry levy funds and funds from the Australian Government – in partnership with peak industry body AUSVEG, will have a significant impact for growers in many export sectors.

Historically, growers have had to undertake a lengthy, complicated and costly transition to implement an entirely new food safety standard (GLOBALG.A.P. – standalone) for export market access. Successful completion of benchmarking, and recognition of FSQ4 by GLOBALG.A.P., would enable Australian growers to build on their existing food safety and quality certification as a streamlined compliance process to access export markets. 

The initial step in the process is to identify / clarify the requirements for GAPs in the key export markets for Australian fresh produce, including several Asian markets and the Middle East. 

Industry consultation has already commenced and any businesses interested in making input at this preliminary stage, should contact Clare Hamilton-Bate – clare@freshcare.com.au or 0407 930 586.

Once the scope of the benchmark is confirmed, a gap analysis of FSQ4 will be conducted against the requirements of GLOBALG.A.P. Certification (v5.0).

As part of the formal benchmark submission, the outcomes will then be developed and submitted to GLOBALG.A.P. this year.

Regular project updates will be provided through both the Freshcare website and industry communications, with the project due for completion later this year.

Article submitted by Clare Hamilton-Bate, Executive Officer at Freshcare. For further updates or information on how to get involved in Freshcare, please visit
www.freshcare.com.au.