Ever wondered what the wee oval with letter and numbers on some food packets means?
Put simply, this is a registration number. The consumer is really well protected in Europe and any premises preparing or making controlled foods, such as meat and dairy, have to be registered and inspected under strict legislation if they want to supply nationwide. This legislation, which in our case is EC 853, lays down the minimum requirements to make sure that only safe foods are sold to the consumer.
The approval number is specific to a single kitchen or premises, not just the company, and in essence tells you exactly where and who made the product. You'll be surprised how many brands of a similar product have the same approval number as they were made by the same big company and just packaged for a specific brand. Not all brands actually produce their product, and certainly not in their own premises.
All food premises in the UK need to have a general food hygiene inspection, which checks that all staff are suitably trained, premises are clean and well maintained and suitable records are kept about fridge temperatures, food storage etc.
But business like Braw which prepare meat have are subject to these extra regulations if they want to sell their product far and wide. The actual regulation simply gives guidance on what to check, and covers a multitude of processes, tests and requirements, but to give you an idea, here are some of the main points we had to show compliance with:
A suitable HACCP - The HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) is one of the most important documents in our process. It defines the whole production process and identifies process steps where there is the potential for the product to become contaminated or affected, and defines a control to make sure this doesn't happen. This document was scrutinised in our approval to make sure our process is up to scratch.
Traceability - As we use meat, we have to keep very strict records on where the meat and other ingredients come from so we can trace them back should a problem arise. The importance of this was highlighted when a case of BSE was detected, it allows the meat industry to quickly check where potential issues are and rectify them. We also have to keep strict records on each batch of Biltong we produce, recording exactly what ingredients were used and the results of all the critical control point checks mentioned above, as well as who each batch was sold to in case we need to recall or withdraw them for some reason.
Product Testing - As we use meat there are a number of tests we have to conduct on our Biltong to make sure it is safe. So we send samples away to our contracted lab and have it tested for a variety of things, including Salmonella, Listeria Monocytogenes, E.Coli and various moulds and yeasts. These test results, as well as our plan to maintain them, are checked during the approval process.
Facility Testing - Similar to the product tests, we also swab various complex equipment in our kitchen and check for nasty stuff, as well as checking water quality, again, all checked by the assessor to make sure we are safe.
That's just a small sample of what goes into getting that little oval with numbers, it's a big deal for us and something we're proud of!