EPIA Returns to Wroclaw with HACCP Compliance Policy in Place – Managing Director’s Report

As we get our ice production facilities ready for the spring and summer busy season, we must not lose sight of what will cap off the 2017 season: the annual convention will once again be hosted by Wieslaw Świerzyński of Ice Art in Wroclaw, Poland this October. Yep, back to Wroclaw. When we last met there in 2009, one of the most divisive discussions about HACCP certification took place and set the direction we continue to follow. At that time, Miguel Angel was Chairman, Giuseppe Olivetti was Treasurer, Matt Meredith was Secretary, Norbert Dooper was Producer Representative, and Jörg Boberg was Supplier Representative.

We were a much smaller group back then, and the entire membership was able to sit around a long conference table and debate the subject. Some of the discussion was heated for and against the proposal to require every producer member to meet HACCP guidelines. We did not even have the guidelines developed and documented at that time, but we knew it was important. Matt was passionate about the subject. He took control and led the discussion. He was adamant that if ice producers did not make the personal and financial investment to be HACCP compliant, EPIA really had no verifiable reason to promote ourselves as a higher quality ice product provider from others that sold ice in the marketplace. Some EPIA producers insisted that HACCP compliance was a necessary baseline for good and responsible production practice. Others were just as vocal against HACCP certification for various reasons. One of those reasons was the time and expense of developing production guidelines and religiously following those food safety guidelines and then having to pay a third party to attest to the fact that the HACCP guidelines were being followed. Sure it was going to be an additional expense, but it is a necessary cost of doing business. We must promote the competitive advantage of food safety even if it adds cost to our product.

After this long and passionate debate, the consensus was that EPIA membership would be granted only to those producers that could show HACCP compliance. To soften the blow for those who were not HACCP compliant in 2009, the requirement would be phased in over two years. Oh, did I mention that we still did not have a definitive HACCP Handbook to follow to become HACCP compliant or an agreed upon certification process?

When we met in Barcelona in 2011 and the deadline was upon us, the Board of Directors had changed. By this time, Giuseppe had replaced Miguel as Chairman, Pedro Torres was appointed Treasurer after Jörg left the industry, Stan Williams was appointed Secretary at the midyear meeting to replace Matt when he also left the industry, Florin Plesca was serving his second term as Producer Representative after Norbert also left the industry the previous year, and Perè Taberner was serving his second term as Supplier Representative. By this time our organization had grown significantly and some priorities had also been adjusted and altered. At the 2011 convention we had 21 supplier members and 31 producer/distributor members and attendance of 88 people–the largest number of attendees to date. The initiatives underway in 2011 included our continued efforts to obtain approval from Germany for authority to operate as a legally recognized association. That, by the way, never happened and we quickly moved the association’s legal structure to Spain the next year. We were also striving to formalize a strategic plan and initiate an EPIA branding initiative. The HACCP certification guidelines were not ignored, and we still discussed how to certify our producers, conducted workshops and lectures during the convention, and developed our HACCP guidelines patterned after the IPIA Packaged Ice Quality Control Standards (PIQCS) handbook. However enforcement was weak.

Here we are several years later and still vacillating on enforced HACCP compliance. Finally in Granada, we once again discussed the compliance requirement and agreed almost unanimously that if any producer cannot show HACCP certification by the rules agreed upon the previous year that they will be removed from the association membership rolls. This was a strong statement and a long time coming, but necessary. We understand that this requirement will probably cause some of the smaller members to not qualify for continued membership and therefore reduce the number of producer members we have in 2017. But we also understand that if we do not enforce food safety certification, we cannot honestly say that our EPIA ice is “Ice you can trust.”

The EPIA is stronger today after so many growing pains since that first planning meeting in Frankfurt in the fall of 2007. We must not lose sight of the fact that if we are to continue to influence the standard for quality in the packaged ice industry in Europe, we must look at the quality of our own producers’ business practices and maintain the highest level of food safety in the industry. We will do this partially by enforcing our membership requirement of HACCP compliance certification. It is appropriate that the 2017 convention is to be held once again in Wroclaw, Poland and hosted by Ice Art. It will have the significance of being the geographic location where we first started down the pathway of food safety certification.

Please get your certification documents to Maryse Prior along with any unpaid 2017 dues that were due as of 31 March 2017. Hope to see all our producer members in Wroclaw in October.