The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project helps BiH institutions and agricultural producers to uphold the highest food safety standards and export their products to the EU.

Last year, on June 7, the World Food Safety Day was marked for the first time. This year’s slogan for the day is “Food safety, everyone’s business.” With the support of the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project, agricultural producers, the Food Safety Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, veterinary offices, and sanitary inspections, are already applying this philosophy.

HACCP on the First Place

For Adela Vileš-Bektaš from the Herbos Nature, a processor of berries, mushrooms, and the wild garlic spice from Sarajevo, HACCP food safety standard is everything.

"Responsibility of all actors involved in food production and processing is key. The HACCP is not just a dead letter on the paper. By respecting all of the HACCP directives and measures we are ensuring the basic levels of the food safety," says Adela, and adds: "Producing safe food for human consumption is a very serious business.”

Adela holds an MA degree in Food Technology, and since 2014 she is the HACCP team manager at Herbos Nature. “Just last week we successfully passed the HACCP recertification audit. This means that we do everything in line with the prescribed norms and that we follow all good hygienic and production practices.” Adela notes that the HACCP is the base and that they are currently also working on the implementation of the IFS standard.

Herbos Nature exports all of its 1,000 tons of products to Switzerland, Germany, France, Serbia, and Turkey. The Sweden/USAID FARMA II helped them reach this level of production by supporting them in obtaining an additional deep-freezing tunnel, which doubled their output and increased the quality of the products.

"We now buy berries, mushrooms, and wild garlic from some 1,000 farmers from Foča-Ustikolina, Bratunac, and Sarajevo regions. We follow and control the food safety from the farms to the final packaged products, most of which are frozen," explains Adela. "This is the only way that we, as producers from a small country, can gain access and survive on the extremely competitive market in the EU. The quality is our strongest trump card in that struggle.”

Checks and controls

Adela notes that being able to trace the product from the farm to the table is very important. "That is the only way to prevent potentially chemically, physically, or microbiologically contaminated products from reaching the consumer."

Džemil Hajrić, the director of the Food Safety Agency (FSA) of Bosnia and Herzegovina, fully agrees. "Food safety is everyone's business indeed," he says. "The Law on Food places the burden on the food producers to produce and offer healthy food on the market. We have 170 by-laws in BiH which provide clear rules about the procedures which must be applied in the production process. In addition to the inspections carried out by the state, entity and cantonal inspectors, self-controls, and risk controls by the producers are also of crucial importance. There is no such thing as a zero risk, and checks and controls are the only way we can minimize it.”

The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project helped the FSA to develop guidelines for the producers related to sampling and bacterial and hygienic controls in the production of poultry meat, control of honey quality, control of pesticide residues, and for the application of the HACCP.

"Beginning of exports of poultry meat and products from BiH to the EU was big news in January 2019. We came to that point by showing that we have the laws and by-laws in place and that we are ready to implement them. Our producers and exporters are now acting according to the BiH’s regulatory framework, which is largely aligned with the EU food safety regulations," says Džemil.

He notes that 95 percent of tested food samples in Bosnia and Hercegovina are of good quality, while the remaining five were either identified in the production process or promptly removed from the market.

Laboratories need improvement

According to Džemil, there are some 30 laboratories that test food in BiH, while the inspection services work with the largest ten.

Adela, nonetheless, insists that the laboratories need to be further improved and better equipped. “We have great labs in BiH, but for example, we still cannot test our products for Norovirus and hepatitis A, which are all transmitted by hands. We have to send our samples to Serbia to be tested, which is a cumbersome and expensive process.”

While Adela hopes to be able to do all the tests in BiH soon, both her and Džemil agree that there can never be enough education on food safety for the producers and the inspectors alike.

The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project will continue supporting the BiH institutions and the agricultural producers in upholding the food safety standards. It is currently working with over 20 laboratories around the country on adopting the new version of ISO 17025 standard. This will accredit them as technically competent to provide laboratory tests to the food producers and processors who are selling their products in the BiH and the EU markets.