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16th March 2007

A BRAND new easy-to-access system for small and medium sized food manufacturers to introduce a food safety quality assurance scheme will be launched on Monday (March 19) at the International Food Exhibition in London.

It has come about after four food-chain organisations recognised that although smaller food providers are being courted more and more by retailers and food service companies, their ability to meet the demands of a range of different buyers is often blighted by confusion over exactly what quality assurance level they are required to aspire to.

David Whiteford of the Scottish Food Quality Certification Ltd (SFQC) explained: "There are now a number of technical standards, some devised and audited by individual retailers and others from high level schemes intended for larger, national producers which are audited by certification bodies.

This is not only confusing for the industry, but can be expensive and overly prescriptive for smaller food suppliers who may not be able to comply with their requirements.

"In partnership with the British Hospitality Association, the British Retail Consortium, the Food and Drink Federation and the National Farmers Union, we have developed the Safe and Local Supplier Approval Scheme (SALSA) whereby an assessor will evaluate a supplier's premises and procedures to identify any food safety concerns. It will allow suppliers to easily access specialist advice and mentoring. Suppliers with growth
aspirations may at a future stage aim for standards such as the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Standard to give them opportunities to supply nationally or internationally. SALSA will help them on their way.

"It is hoped that it will also help local and regional food businesses to raise supportive funding for specialist quality assurance technical support and business development."

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is funding almost half the cost of piloting the scheme, supported by Scottish Enterprise (SE), both agencies recognising the benefit of it being implemented by the industry's own representatives.

The Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) will operate the SALSA scheme on behalf of the joint venture.

Andrew Opie from the BRC said: "This scheme will enable small food manufacturers to provide an assurance on risk based food safety management and thus increase their access to bigger customers who may either sell their products or use them in their own production."

The scheme will encourage the growing interest from retailers and companies in buying products from smaller companies, says Mark Georgeson, HIE's senior food and drink manager. He explained: "The added value food and drink market is worth an estimated 240million to the Highlands and Islands and supports around 7,000 jobs across the region.

"The market for local food is growing, driven by issues such as sustainability, food safety, health and fine dining but there is an urgent need from suppliers and customers, for easily understood food safety management accreditation. HIE is delighted to be playing such a fundamental role in delivering this.

"Recognition of the scheme outside the UK will provide commercial confidence to overseas customers in the same way that the BRC global standard does for large operators. In addition it will provide satisfactory evidence for larger companies to start doing business with many new, smaller suppliers."

The SALSA scheme has already been test-run on 15 small Scottish food businesses and will now be rolled-out to the rest of Scotland following its launch at the International Food Exhibition in London on Monday.


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