April 19; Kuala Lumpur;
I am in Malaysia this week. Malaysia is one of the most fast-developing countries in Asia and food is a very important part of the culture here; the people here enjoy a wide variety of food being available with influences from China, India and other Asian countries.
On Wednesday, I attended the LRQA Food Seminar in Kuala Lumpur. It was a very successful event where almost 100 attendees from food and packaging manufacturers, restaurants, hotels, the Ministry of Health and others showed that food safety, quality and sustainability are high up on the agenda in this fascinating country.
Speakers at the Food Event were Chin Cheow Keat, the Senior Principal Assistant Director from the Food Safety and Quality Division of the Ministry of Health. Mr Keat presented the current legislation for food safety in Malaysia and the importance of food safety management systems – not just for the domestic market, but for the export of food products.
He said that the traditional role of food authorities to ‘simply check and give penalties has to change’, in order to drive a ‘positive food safety culture in many of the organisations spanning the Malaysian food sector.’
Another presentation that attracted significant levels of interest came from Mrs Mariana Abdul Ghani, one of LRQA’s local Food Assessors. With over nine years’ experience in food safety and quality audits in Malaysia, Ms Ghani highlighted some of the most important issues around food safety and shared her insight on some practical solutions.
My own presentation was about the international developments in food safety standards, audits and certification, including the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)I, the international food safety management system standard ISO 22000 and FSSC 22000 – the complete food safety management scheme. I also explained the extension of FSSC 22000 certification for packaging material manufacturers and how GFSI and ISO are expanding in to new food supply chain sectors such as catering, restaurants, animal feed and storage, transport and distribution. What is clear is that food safety standards and certification have a supply chain approach – ‘from Farm to Fork’ as we often say, or perhaps a more appropriate analogy here would be ‘from Farm to Chop Stick’!
Another great experience this week was the opportunity to visit LRQA Food Clients. LRQA Malaysia is one of the leading certification bodies in the food sector here and I visited 3 of them, a company making a variety of dairy powder blends and cooking oil, the food service department of the National Heart Institute, and KLCC – the organisation that facilitates more than 100 food outlets in the famous Petronas Twin towers with their food safety systems, including some of the most important support services including dish-washing, cleaning and the manufacture of ice cubes. What fascinated me was their commitment to food safety. The meetings were not purely restricted to their offices and discussions with senior management; they went out of their way to show me the heart of their activities including the production lines and kitchens.
One of the highlights of my visit was the fact that LRQA Malaysia has certified KLCC and 85 of their food restaurants in the Petronas Towers for HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points). This concept is - for me - quite unique in the food services sector, namely a centralised approach for food safety management with individual certification of the restaurants.
The meeting with them was in one of the food restaurants, Nasi Lemak Adik. And although I am sure all of the restaurants are great, this visit was special. The manager - who also happened to be the own and the senior chef - presented a number of dishes from the menu and explained where they came from and when they are served. This was a great example of how a passion for food, cooking skills, entrepreneurship and food safety assurance go together!
To summarise my week in Malaysia: it was a great experience! It is clear that this fascinating country is developing rapidly and food safety is the number one priority in the food sector. This has been a huge learning experience and I am thankful for the hospitality, openness and efforts I witnessed from my colleagues, our clients and other people I met.
And on a personal note, as cooking is one of my hobbies, I was fortunate enough to have received first-hand the inspiration to try and recreate these delicious Malaysian dishes back home in the Netherlands!