Food safety problems facing nations such as Romania are not insurmountable, but they will not be solved quickly.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a program in Romania entitled “Food Safety and Security: Global Holistic Approaches for the Future and Environmental Impacts.” Supported by the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme and developed by Iowa State University and members of Dunarea de Jos University in Galati, participants came from Romania, Albania, Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, Moldova, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. The program clearly revealed the problems facing developing nations and those emerging from the Eastern block, especially those that have joined the European Union (EU).

The food safety and hygiene problems facing nations such as Romania are not insurmountable, but they will not be solved in a few years. Perhaps the greatest problem is the EU mandate that all food processing and handling operations implement a HACCP plan. According to a Romanian speaker, there are 12,000 Romanian establishments processing or handling food, ranging from large processors that export food throughout the EU and beyond to small village bakeries producing traditional goods for local markets. The situation is the same in developing nations such as Bulgaria, Croatia and Moldova, whether they are EU members or potential candidates.

Ensuring that all operations meet EU or international standards for food safety requires not only training and education for stakeholders, but a commitment to making sure these stakeholders understand why the mandate is crucial. This is a key consideration for small operations that focus primarily on local markets. It can be challenging, for example, to convince a family-owned, village bakery that it needs to change procedures because of its government’s membership in the EU.

The Romanians are committed to building food safety programs and understand the inherent challenges. The problems with HACCP implementation in Eastern Europe are the same as those in the US, Africa and Asia. One primary failure is the lack of a proper hazard analysis. This problem continues in the US even though HACCP has been in place for more than 30 years. Another problem overseas is translation error. Hazard analysis was incorrectly translated as risk assessment, which led processors and others to approach this all-important first step improperly.

During the meeting, participants decided to prioritize HACCP plan development and implementation throughout Romania and that a coalition of Romanian food professionals from government, academia and industry would conduct food industry risk assessments.

The United States participants shared their food safety and security expertise, but the most important collaboration consisted of practical experiences applicable to concerns facing the Romanians and other participants.