Food safety policy and management : a case study of implementing the HACCP system in the fish industry in the Sultanate of Oman
Oman is one of the most important countries engaged in fishing in the Middle East. Fishing and agriculture have been traditional Omani occupations and sources of food and employment for the people in Oman. Over the last 40 years, many major food-importing countries have established strict hygiene regulations and legislation, including definitive standards for fishery products. Many countries exporting fishery products, particularly developing ones, did not have the mechanisms in place to meet such requirements. This led to rejection of consignments and economic losses, a fate suffered by Oman in 1997. Since 1997 Oman, has adopted a preventive approach to food safety, inspired by Council Directive 91/493/EEC and Commission Decision 94/356/EC. The acronym HACCP (standing for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) denotes the management philosophy and family of techniques employed to implement the preventive approach. In the light of these factors, it was considered important in this study to examine, through case studies, the extent to which HACCP principles and associated practices were being applied within the fish industry. Thus the difficulties of their application in practice would be assessed, and their reception in the fish processing industry reviewed. To meet this gap in knowledge, a survey was designed and carried out in all Omani regions. Such a study would determine the problems, as seen by the industry, that obstruct the proper implementation of HACCP. The aim of this study is to explore the process of HACCP implementation in the Omani food sector, using the seafood processing sector as a case study. To carry out this study, a triangulation method was employed to collect and validate both qualitative and quantitative data. A questionnaire was employed as the main method of data collection supplemented by semi-structured interviews of key-informants together with the application of a checklist against existing practices in the plants. The analysis of the food safety policy and management in Oman, in relation to the food industry as a whole, reveals that most problems experienced are those related to: a poorly developed institutional and legal framework; weak technical regulations; ill-defined inspection and approval procedures; lack of skilled staff for inspection and laboratory testing; many sub-standard processing factories; and the absence of adequate infrastructure for fish marketing. At the level of individual businesses, fish processing strategies for HACCP system implementation were investigated. The findings of this study are that most Omani fish processors are focused primarily on the development of their HACCP plans. Although developing of the HACCP plan is a fundamental part of the HACCP process, it is not widely understood among managers that this is just the beginning. The implementation and sustaining of a HACCP system can be a difficult and time-consuming mission. The study attributes this weakness to three main elements: poor training of personnel; shortcomings in prerequisite programmes; and a lack of commitment to maintenance of HACCP.