Tag Archives: employees

Jason Chester, InfinityQS
FST Soapbox

Digital Revolution: Empowering the Remote Workforce and Resilience Post-COVID-19

By Jason Chester
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Jason Chester, InfinityQS

Around the world, countries are beginning to take tentative steps toward a return to normalcy following months of stay-at-home mandates and other restrictions in light of COVID-19. Slowly, we’re starting to see employees return to their offices, retail stores open their doors, and restaurants welcome back patrons. However, many will find themselves in a world dramatically different from the one they left before quarantine.

Namely, on top of social distancing and disinfection measures to control further spread of the virus, entire industries are re-examining their legacy processes and systems—especially ones that presented operational challenges at the pandemic’s outbreak—the food manufacturing industry included.

In truth, food manufacturers have gone to great lengths to maintain productivity and output to meet demand throughout the pandemic. But they have done so in the face of unprecedented circumstances, with many plants operating with limited workforces and key employees like quality professionals and plant managers shifted to remote work. Lacking connectivity between those on the plant floor and at home due to long-held manual processes, a growing number of manufacturers must now take a hard look at their quality and safety programs and embrace digital tools.

A Wake-Up Call for Digital Transformation

Most technological investments in food manufacturing over the past several decades have centered on electro-mechanical automation designed to scale up the physical production process. Fewer investments, however, have been made on the equally important data-driven, decision-making process necessary for ensuring optimal performance, food quality and safety.

Even in the most heavily automated plants, it’s not uncommon to find manufacturers managing quality through manually updated spreadsheets, which are often only reviewed after the fact, when it’s too late for remedial correction. There are unfortunately also those who still rely on paper checklists, making it practically impossible to take proactive action on collected process data—much less get the information in front of remote quality professionals and managers. Meanwhile, others have gone as far as adopting software solutions for quality data management and process control, but these tend to be on-premises systems that employees can’t access outside of the four walls of the plant.

We have also seen many examples where, due to workforce restrictions and availability, employees from other parts of the manufacturing business (e.g., R&D, IT, and back-office teams) have been brought in to perform plant-floor activities like quality and food safety checks. The goal has been to prevent impediments to production output, just when demand has increased substantially. But ensuring that these employees perform the checks on time and in the correct way—with little time for training or coaching—has left many plant leaders in a precarious position.

The challenges seen with these capabilities and enabling geographically dispersed teams to work together through the pandemic have been a wake-up call of sorts for digital transformation. Manufacturers are coming to the realization that they’ll need data accessibility, actionability and adaptability along the road to recovery and in the post-COVID-19 world. And with social distancing and other workplace precautions expected to continue for the foreseeable future, the imperative is all the more urgent.

The Solution Lies in the Cloud

To digitally transform quality and safety programs today, food manufacturers should prioritize investment in the cloud. Notably, cloud-based quality management systems offer a way to standardize and centralize critical process information, as well as tools to empower employees at all levels of the enterprise.

For plant-floor operators struggling to keep up on account of reduced workforce sizes, such solutions can automate routine yet important activities for quality assurance, including data collection, process monitoring and reporting. If a team member needs to cover a different shift or unfamiliar task, role-based dashboards can help them to see required actions, while process workflows can provide guidance to ensure proper steps are taken even with a limited workforce. Further, automated alerts can provide timely notifications of any issues—whether it be a missed data collection or an actual food quality or safety concern present in the data.

Perhaps most importantly during the pandemic and for the post-COVID-19 world, the cloud makes critical quality data instantly and easily accessible from anywhere, at any time. Quality professionals, plant managers, and other decision-makers can continue to monitor and analyze real-time process data, as well as observe performance trends to prevent issues from escalating—all safely from home.

The scalability of cloud-based solutions also streamlines deployment so organizations can rapidly implement and standardize on a single system across multiple lines and sites. In doing so, it becomes possible to run cross-plant analyses to identify opportunities for widescale process improvement and align best practices for optimal quality control at all sites. This ability to understand what’s happening in production—through real-time data—to enact agile, real-world change is a hallmark of successful digital transformation.

An Investment for Whatever the Future Holds

Ultimately, investments in secure cloud-based quality management and the broader digital transformation of manufacturing operations are investments in not only perseverance during the pandemic, but also resilience for the future. Food producers and manufacturers who can readily access and make informed decisions from their data will be the ones best equipped to pivot and adjust operations in times of disruption and uncertainty. And while it’s unclear what the future holds for the world, the food industry, and COVID-19, it’s safe to say we likely won’t see a full return to normalcy but the emergence of a new—and in many ways better—normal, born out of digital solutions and smarter ways of thinking about quality data collection and monitoring.

Coronavirus, COVID-19

China Stops Poultry Imports From Tyson Foods Due to COVID-19 Concerns, Clamping Down on Inspections

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Coronavirus, COVID-19

On Sunday China’s General Administration of Customs announced that it would be suspending imported shipments of poultry from a Tyson Foods plant based in Springdale, Arkansas. The suspension is reportedly due to an outbreak of coronavirus cases at the facility.

On Friday Tyson Foods announced the results of COVID-19 testing conducted at its facilities in northwestern Arkansas (Benton and Washington counties): 3,748 employees were tested; 481 tested positive, and 95% were asymptomatic.

“The results across our Northwest Arkansas facilities, and the country more broadly, reflect how much is still unknown about this virus, which is why Tyson is committed to providing information to our local health officials and enhanced education to our team members,” said Tom Brower, senior vice president of health and safety for Tyson Foods stated in a company press release. “Through our inclusive approach to large-scale testing, we are finding that a very high level of team members who test positive do not show symptoms. Identifying asymptomatic cases helps the community, since other testing is often limited to people who feel unwell.”

Meanwhile, it has also been reported that officials in China want the inspection process of overseas shipments ramped up, as they suspect that COVID-19 could be present on imported frozen food products.

Over the weekend PepsiCo’s Beijing operations were suspended following confirmed coronavirus cases at its chips production facility.

Last week new cases of the coronavirus were reported in Beijing, leading to concerns of a resurgence of the virus. Some new cases have been linked to the Xinfadi Market, a wholesale food market.

Dave Premo, Birko Corp.
FST Soapbox

How to Maintain Food Safety and Protect Your Brand During Construction

By Dave Premo
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Dave Premo, Birko Corp.

If your food processing facility needs an expansion or update, construction can be a disruptive event. Throughout the process, a variety of food safety hazards can be present, potentially putting your products at risk. While the contractors you work with are skilled at their trade, protecting your brand is ultimately your responsibility.

Construction, food safety
Developing a thorough plan can keep products, the facility and your employees safe during construction. Images courtesy of Birko.

Extra precautions are needed to minimize the food safety risks during construction, but by developing a thorough plan and following it diligently, you can keep your products, facility and employees safe.

Preparation: The Important First Steps for Safety

Having an established environmental plan before construction starts will make the construction process go smoothly and help maintain safety. If the plan your staff is following needs changes or improvements, make updates in advance of construction and be sure that your staff is up to speed before the project begins.

First, remove any equipment that can be moved from the construction zone and cover all electrical panels, open conduit and electrical outlets to minimize areas that might harbor dust or bacteria during construction.

Next, taking steps to separate the construction and production areas is crucial. Installing heavy gauge plastic sheeting or even temporary walls to isolate the construction area will help prevent cross-contamination. Any doors or wall openings on the temporary barriers should be sealed on both sides, and the gaps between the base of the barriers and the floor should be adequately sealed to keep the surrounding production areas safe. Do whatever is necessary to minimize organisms from traveling by air outside of the construction zone.

The HVAC and air handling system in the construction area should also be evaluated for cross-contamination potential. Be sure to close off or divert the airflow to prevent air movement from the construction zone to any production areas. In addition, make sure the system will be able to accommodate additional areas or space after construction is complete and make any upgrades if necessary. Thoroughly clean the HVAC system and filters before the construction process starts.

Similarly, evaluate any drains that are present in the construction zone for cross-contamination potential and take precautions to keep pathogens from passing from the construction area to the food production areas.

Make Contractors Part of Your Plan

While contractors might have years of experience in their trade, they don’t know your food safety plan. Schedule a formal food safety training session with the contractor and all members of the construction staff. Don’t allow anyone to work in the facility before completing the training. Determine which protective clothing contractors and their team will need, such as frocks, boot covers or hairnets, and provide a separate bag or place to store them during the construction process.

Designating a single entrance for contractors and construction staff will minimize confusion and avoid mistaken entries into prohibited areas. Educate them on the appropriate traffic flow as they arrive, enter the facility, and conduct their work. Their entrance should be separate from those used by office and food production employees. Have quat or alcohol hand and tool sanitizers stationed at the designated contractor entrance, and require them to sanitize any tools, materials or equipment before entering the facility. Emphasize that no mud or other debris should be tracked into the facility. Provide the necessary guidance and monitor the entrance area to prevent that from happening.

Shoe coverings, food safety, construction
Effectively communicate safety plan with all contractors involved.

Construction staff and in-house food production staff should be separated at all times. To prevent cross-contamination, there shouldn’t be any direct paths from the construction area to the production area. No material from the construction area should ever be brought into the food production area. Contractors and construction staff should also be prohibited from using the break rooms or restrooms that are used by the facility employees. Because they won’t have access to other areas, temporary hand wash sinks may be needed for construction employees to follow frequent hand washing and sanitizing procedures.

Best Practices for Sanitation During Construction

Before demolishing and removing any walls during the construction process, apply a foam disinfectant at 800–1000 ppm without rinsing. If any equipment needs to be moved, or if there will be new equipment brought into the area, clean and disinfect it with quat at 800–1000 ppm without rinsing.

Quat should also be applied heavily on the floors around the designated construction team entrances. Foam or spray contractors’ walkways and the construction area floor every four hours at 800–1000 ppm. Allow contractors, forklifts, dollies or other wheeled carts to regularly travel through the disinfectant to keep their feet and wheels sanitized as they move throughout the construction area.

If your construction project involves new equipment installation, discuss the sanitation requirements and restrictions with a sanitation chemical provider before purchasing this equipment to ensure you have the right chemistry on hand. Any new equipment should be cleaned and sanitized, as well as the area where it will be installed, before bringing the equipment into the area. Make sure all the surfaces of the new equipment are compatible with your current cleaning chemistry and that the installation follows proper food safety guidelines. If necessary, upgrade your food safety process to accommodate the new equipment.

Transitioning from Construction to Safe Food Production
Once the construction project is complete, remove all construction materials, tools, debris, plastic sheeting and temporary walls. Seal any holes that might have occurred in the floors, walls and ceilings where equipment was moved, and repair or replace epoxy or other floor coverings. Inspect any forklifts or man lifts used during the construction, and clean and sanitize them.

Clean the HVAC and air handling system and return it to either its pre-construction settings or an updated configuration based on what the new area requires.

Continue cleaning everything in the construction area, from ceiling to floor, including lights, walls, drains, refrigeration units and all equipment following SSOPs. Note that different cleaning products containing solvents may be needed for the initial cleaning to remove cutting oil, welding flux residues, greases, and other elements from the construction process. Be sure to have those cleaning products on hand before you get to this step to avoid delays of a thorough sanitation process. Where necessary, passivate any stainless steel equipment.

Finally, test the environment. Collect a special set of swabs and monitor the results. Apply post-rinse sanitizer and then begin food production. Implement an enhanced environmental monitoring program in all areas disrupted by the construction until the data shows a return to the baseline levels. Revise your facility SSOPs in light of any changes based on the new construction.

Achieving Seamless Productivity

Expansion can mean new capabilities for your business, but lax food safety processes during construction can jeopardize the new opportunities your expansion brings. By having a strong plan in place, following it diligently, educating contractors on your plan, monitoring activity, and using effective sanitizing chemistry, you will be able to expand while protecting your brand and avoiding food safety issues.

Retail Food Safety Forum

The New Normal for Grocery Store Health and Safety

By Todd Frantz
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Grocery stores have become some of the most important retail establishments over the past few months. They’ve kept people fed and provided access to essential supplies such as toilet paper, cleaning agents and over-the-counter medications. Grocery retailers have taken extraordinary steps to help protect the health and safety of their workers and customers during the worldwide pandemic, understanding that viruses can spread quickly with high customer traffic.

While many grocery stores made operational changes to stay open during this time, more adjustments are needed to help stem future infections. Guest occupancy limits, face-covering recommendations and single-directional aisles are here to stay, at least for the near term. Customers are likely to continue online shopping, which has its own set of challenges for food and delivery safety. It will be critical for retailers to obtain reliable information, specific to the store’s location and to follow local, state and federal mitigation guidelines. Trusted sources of such information include the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), plus state and local health departments.

Grocery retailers should also consider how and when employees interact with customers. Acrylic barriers at checkout lines are one method of physical control. Providing personal protective equipment and appropriate training on its use is another good method for maintaining infection control. As regulations relax, retailers need to evaluate what, if any, other changes should occur to keep safety at the forefront.

There are many other common sense practices retailers can adopt to help minimize the spread of any virus. Viral illnesses spread primarily between individuals, so the most important act of prevention is to keep employees healthy and safe. Hand washing is one of the most important steps we can take to help prevent the spread of illnesses. Most states require grocery stores to post restroom signs mandating that employees wash their hands, but these signs typically lack specific instructions. The CDC recommends cleaning hands in a specific way to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. The steps are the following:

  1. Dispense a paper towel, so it is ready before wetting hands
  2. Wet hands with warm (100°F/38°C) water
  3. Apply an appropriate amount of soap
  4. Rub hands vigorously together for 20 seconds
  5. Clean between the fingers, the backs of the hands and the fingertips
  6. Rinse hands under warm water to remove soap
  7. Dry hands with the paper towel
  8. Turn off faucet with a paper towel
  9. Use the paper towel to contact door surfaces to exit
  10. Throw away paper towel in a trash receptacle

Because grocery store workers touch food, increasing their handwashing frequency can help prevent the transmission of other types of illnesses beyond respiratory viruses. Employees should take care to wash their hands before donning gloves for any food preparation, after touching exposed skin, after handling soiled utensils and after engaging in any other activities that could soil hands.

Facility sanitization is another essential aspect in preventing the spread of illnesses. Grocery stores already have rigorous cleaning protocols that explain how to mix and use chemicals correctly. Additional instruction on how to apply cleaning agents to surface areas as well as visual reminders reminding workers how long a cleaning solution needs to remain before wiping with a cloth. To prevent the spread of infection, many stores have added more frequent cleaning for high-touch surfaces like door handles, touch screens and carts.

When approved sanitizers run low, however, some people turn to chlorine sanitizing agents like unscented bleach. Bleach can be a highly effective sanitizer, but it can also be potentially hazardous when misused. Specifically, when mixed with other cleaning products that contain ammonia, it creates a highly toxic chlorine gas. The cleaning staff needs proper training on how to mix and use cleaning solutions, use the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as wearing gloves or a protective outer garment, and to provide appropriate ventilation in rooms where sanitizers are mixed and stored.

Grocery stores have been at the forefront of the pandemic response for some time and they will be the first to adopt “new normal” procedures. Specific guidelines around health and safety evolve, but the fundamentals of health and safety stay the same. Stores that strive to maintain high standards around cleanliness and sanitation are likely to be better positioned for the inevitable next time.

Angelica Grindle, DEKRA

Four Steps for Utilizing Behavioral Science to Control Exposure to COVID-19

By Angelica Grindle, Ph.D.
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Angelica Grindle, DEKRA

Safety is defined as controlling exposure for self and others. Going into 2020, the food industry battled safety concerns such as slips and falls, knife cuts, soft-tissue injuries, etc. As an “essential industry”, food-related organizations now face a unique challenge in controlling exposure to COVID-19. Not only must they keep their facilities clean and employees safe, they must also ensure they do not create additional exposures for their suppliers or customers.

These challenges increase at a time when employees may be distracted by stress, financial uncertainties, job insecurity, and worry for themselves and their families. Additionally, facilities may be understaffed, employees may be doing tasks they do not normally do, and we have swelling populations working from home.

While there is much we cannot control with COVID-19, there are specific behaviors that will reduce the risk of viral exposure for ourselves, our co-workers, and our communities. Decades of research show the power of behavioral science in increasing the consistency of safe behaviors. The spread of COVID-19 serves as an important reminder of what food-related organizations can gain by incorporating a behavioral component into a comprehensive exposure-reduction process.

Whether you have an existing behavior based safety process or not, follow these four steps.

Step 1: Pinpoint Critical COVID-19 Exposure Reduction Behaviors

It is critical to clearly pinpoint the behaviors you want to see occurring at a high rate. In the food industry, an organization must control exposure both within their facilities as well as during interactions with suppliers and customers. Controlling exposure within facilities will typically include those behaviors recommended by the CDC such as:

  1. Maintain six feet of separation at all times possible.
  2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  3. Minimize personal interactions to reduce exposure to transmit or receive pathogens.
  4. Frequent 20-second hand washing with soap and warm water.
  5. Make hand disinfectant available.
  6. Use alternatives to shaking hands.
  7. Frequently clean and disinfect common areas, such as meeting rooms, bathrooms, doorknobs, countertops, railings, and light switches.
  8. Sneeze and/or cough into elbow or use a tissue and immediately discard.
  9. Conduct meetings via conferencing rather than in person.
  10.  If you are sick, stay home.
  11. If exposed to COVID-19, self-quarantine for precaution and protection of others.

Supplier/Customer exposure-reduction behaviors will vary depending upon your specific industry and may include pinpointing the critical behaviors for food preparation, loading dock delivery, customer home delivery, and customer pick up. When creating checklists to meet your unique exposures, be sure the behaviors you pinpoint are:

  • Measurable: The behavior can be counted or quantified.
  • Observable: The behavior can be seen or heard by an observer.
  • Reliable: Two or more people agree that they observed the same thing.
  • Active: If a dead man can do it, it is not behavior.
  • Influenceable: Under the control of the performer.

Once you have drafted your checklists, ask yourself, “If everyone in my facility did all of these behaviors all the time, would we be certain that we were controlling exposure for each other, our suppliers, and our customers?” If yes, test your checklists for ease of use and clarity.

Step 2: Develop Your Observation Process

To do this, you will want to ask yourself:

  • Who? Who will do observations? Can we leverage observer expertise from an existing process and have them focus on COVID-19 exposure reduction behaviors or should we create a new observer team?
  • Where? Which specific locations, job types, and/or tasks should be monitored?
  • When? When will observers conduct observations?
  • Data: How will you manage the data obtained during the observations so that it can be used to identify obstacles to safe performance? Can the checklist items be entered into an existing database or will we need to create something new?
  • Communication: What information needs to be communicated before we begin our COVID-19 Exposure Reduction process and over time? How will we communicate it?

Step 3: Conduct Your Observations and Provide Feedback

Starting the Observation
Your observers should explain that they are there to help reduce exposure to COVID-19 by providing feedback on performance.

Recording the Observation
Observers should note on the checklist which behaviors are occurring in a safe manner (protected) and which are increasing exposure to COVID-19 (exposed).

Provide Feedback
Feedback is given in the spirit of reducing exposure. It should be given as soon as possible after the observation to reinforce protected behaviors and give the person to opportunity to modify exposed behaviors.

Success Feedback
Success feedback helps reinforce the behaviors you want occurring consistently. Effective success feedback includes:

  • Context: The situation in which the behavior occurred.
  • Action: The specific behaviors observed which reduce exposure to COVID-19.
  • Result: The impact of those behaviors on themselves or others—in this case, reduced COVID-19 exposure for themselves, their families and community.

“I care about your safety and do not want to see you exposed to COVID-19. I saw you use hand sanitizer prior to putting on eye protection. By doing that, you reduced the likelihood of transferring anything that might have been on your hands to your face which keeps you safe from contracting COVID-19.”

Guidance Feedback

Guidance feedback is given for exposed behaviors to transform that behavior into a protected one. Effective guidance feedback includes Context, Action, Result, but also:

  • Alternative Action: The behavior that would have reduced their exposure to COVID-19.
  • Alternative Result: The impact of that alternative behavior, such as reduced COVID-19 exposure for themselves, their families, and community.

“I care about your safety and do not want to see you exposed to COVID-19. I saw that you touched your face while putting on eye protection. By doing that, you increased the likelihood of transferring anything on your hand to your face which increases your risk of exposure to COVID-19. What could you have done to reduce that exposure?”

When giving guidance feedback, it is important to have a meaningful conversation about what prevented them from doing the safe alternative. Note these obstacles on the checklist.

Step 4: Use Your Data to Remove Obstacles to Safe Practices.

Create a COVID-19 exposure reduction team to analyze observation data. This team will identify systemic or organizational obstacles to safe behavior and develop plans to remove those obstacles. This is critical! When an organization knows that many people are doing the same exposed behavior, it is imperative that they not blame the employees but instead analyze what is going on in the organization that may inadvertently be encouraging these at-risk behaviors.

For example, we know handwashing and/or sanitizing is an important COVID-19 exposure reduction behavior. However, if your employees do not have access to sinks or hand sanitizer, it is not possible for them to reduce their exposure.
Similarly, the CDC recommends that people who are sick not come to work. However, if your organization does not have an adequate sick leave policy, people will come to work sick and expose their co-workers, customers and suppliers to their illness.

Your COVID-19 exposure reduction team should develop plans to remove obstacles to safe behavior using the hierarchy of controls.

Conclusion

Consistently executing critical behaviors is key to reducing exposure to COVID-19 as flattening the curve is imperative in the worldwide fight against this pandemic. Regardless of the type of behavior or the outcome that the behavior impacts, Behavior based safety systems work by providing feedback during the observations and then using the information obtained during the feedback conversation to remove obstacles to safe practices.

By using these tips, you can add a proven and powerful tool to your arsenal in the fight against COVID-19 and help keep your employees, their families, and your community safe.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

Four Ways To Improve Your Food Safety Management System

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

Foodborne illnesses cost billions of dollars each year in the United States. A lack of standards can lead to severe consequences, including loss of customers, negative impact on brand reputation and employees missing work due to illness. As a result, safety is vital for any brand that is committed to high-quality food and maintaining a positive brand image.

Food safety management systems—the processes and procedures that companies set up to prevent contamination—are essential in reducing the risk of foodborne illness and ensuring the safest products possible.

By FDA regulation, most food processors must have HACCP as well as corrective actions/preventive action (CAPAs) plans in place. Even with the right safety guidelines, however, contamination or exposure to food hazards can still occur. The following are four ways to improve the quality of your food safety management system.

1. Conduct Regular Audits

Even if your business’s HACCP is highly effective in theory, it won’t prevent contamination unless actual practice lines up with documentation. Regular audits can ensure employee practice complies.

HACCPs are structured around identifying both potential food hazards and critical control points (CCPs) where your system has the opportunity to prevent, mitigate or eliminate a potential issue. Usually, this means storing food items or performing some biological, physical or chemical action to a target limit— like a specific temperature—to prevent or mitigate contamination.

For example, in the manufacturing of chicken products, cooking and hot-holding are critical control points at which the product needs to be heated to a certain temperature to eliminate or prevent potential hazards. Here, an audit would be a chance to ensure employees cooked and hot-held foods at the proper temperatures. If they aren’t, the food safety management team can make policy changes that ensure practice lines up with planning.

The audit process should be consistent and occur regularly. It should also cover every aspect of your HACCP strategy and place a particular focus on potential hazards and CCPs. These audits can be a way to uncover the strengths and weaknesses of your current HACCP strategy. Companies can use this information to build upon existing practices or demonstrate how procedures could be more effective.

Stainless steel
Stainless steel is popular in food handling due to impermeable surface and resistance to corrosion, two characteristics that help reduce the risk of food contamination. (free image from Splash)

2. Consider a CCP Monitoring System

You can use automated or digital systems to ensure that CCPs aren’t deviating from control limits. With the right sensors, it’s possible to ensure that food remains between target limits at each CCP. For example, automated sensors can quickly alert plant staff if the temperature of food in cold storage rises above a certain threshold, or if there is a deviation from a given CCP.

These alerts can help staff quickly respond to deviations, ensuring compliance, and reducing the risk of contamination by food hazards.

3. Review and Maintain Equipment

An thorough equipment program can be highly effective in reducing the risk of food contamination. To minimize risk, your plan should look at the equipment needed in your plant, as well as how it’s constructed and maintained. For example, choosing industry-standard or food-safe materials can help prevent contamination. Investing in the right kind of stainless steel can both improve operating costs and help reduce the risk of food exposed to hazards.

Preventive maintenance plans for food safety equipment can also reduce the risk of contamination by ensuring the proper functioning of site equipment.

4. Provide Employee Support and Encourage Buy-In

Training programs are an essential component of any HACCP. If your employees don’t know how to handle food properly or aren’t aware of HACCP documentation or the CCPs in the food processing pipeline, they won’t be able to execute the plan and prevent contamination.

While training programs are crucial, they don’t necessarily guarantee compliance. Common pitfalls exist that can discourage employees from following the plan. To encourage employee buy-in, training should begin by discussing the importance of food safety and the potential risks of contamination.

The training should also be robust enough that employees feel confident when executing the HACCP. Training staff should be sure to provide visual demonstrations and opportunities for employees to practice before they become responsible for food safety. Tests or evaluations both during and after training can be useful tools in determining how well your employees understand your business’s HACCP strategy. Regular follow-ups on training can also ensure compliance and reduce the risk of contamination.

Improving Food Safety Management Systems

For any business that works with food, safety programs are essential in ensuring the safest and highest quality product possible. Existing food safety management systems can often improve with the right methods. For example, automated monitoring systems can reduce the risk of deviating from CCP limits. Employee training and regular audits can also ensure that a plant’s food safety practices line up with the documented plan.

Paperstack

Taking Your Operations Digital? Bring in the Stakeholders Early

By Maria Fontanazza
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Paperstack

Going digital is a hot topic in the food industry, but making the investment can be a tough choice for organizations. Jeremy Schneider, business development director, food safety and quality assurance at Controlant, reviews some of the factors that food companies should consider when making the decision, along with the value that digital technologies can bring from the perspective of ROI and improving food safety culture.

Food Safety Tech: For businesses that have been historically paper-driven, where do they start on the technology adoption journey?

Jeremy Schneider, Controlant
Jeremy Schneider, business development director, food safety and quality assurance at Controlant

Schneider: There are a number of questions that firms, both small and large, should consider when deciding to move to a paperless operation. Have you considered what moving away from a paper-based system would mean for your enterprise? What are the perceived challenges to making this move? Or perhaps, what are the risks of not moving to digital? How would utilizing systems provide your organization with the ability to access data in transformative ways?

For organizations that are making the transition from paper documentation to digital, it is critical to develop a roadmap with tangible milestones and objectives. Although there are a variety of reasons to make the switch to digital, what is most important for your organization will determine what those are, as they will play a critical role in developing a roadmap of priorities. We often find that organizations identify a ‘’pain-point’’ in their current process, and this is a leading driver to wanting to make a change in their process. Perhaps this is the inability to easily access information in a timely manner, or the challenges with making sense of the data that you are currently collecting. Whatever your challenges may be, begin by developing a plan, and prioritize this, as it will provide you with early positive results that will keep you working towards the goal. As you experience these early benefits from going digital, you will begin to see the value that this will bring your organization at scale.

One significant issue that many organizations face when beginning this journey is not bringing the appropriate stakeholders into a program early enough. It is critical for the success of new supply chain programs to make sure you bring in members of purchasing, logistics, quality, finance, IT, and others as early as possible so that any questions or concerns are properly vetted early in the process. In addition to this, getting buy-in from these teams at the earliest phase of a project will allow others to vet the system in their own way, potentially helping them solve challenges they have been

FST: Talk about measuring the success of a technology: How do the metrics translate into ROI?

Schneider: A question that is often raised is how to measure the success of the technology. Simply put, does the program make your life easier and solve the problem you set out to, or not? Does it meet the concise objectives that you outlined in the beginning of the process, or does it fall short in some way? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, and it does meet the objectives, then you are well on your way to defining success of your program.

Read Food Safety Tech’s previous discussion with Schneider, Using Technology for Traceability Adds Dimension to Supply Chain, Promises ROIIt is critical that programs are able to show their value through their return on investment, but how do you measure this? If you have recently implemented a real-time supply chain temperature monitoring program, for instance, you may want to consider metrics such as reduced loss, spoilage, shortages, or restaurant-level outages as metrics of success. Or perhaps you would want to translate this into a dollar figure. For instance, in the previous year, your organization counted 10 rejected shipments due to suspected temperature abuse, at a loss of $500,000. In the year following your implementation, your new system was able to help the organization intervene and minimize that loss to just one rejected shipment at a cost of $50,000, thus leading to a reduced loss rate of $450,000.

In collaboration with other stakeholders in your organization, you may be able to identify additional metrics, such as reduced freight rates from optimized shipping lanes, reduced insurance premiums from reduced losses, or reduced quantities of on-hand inventories as you are able to truly manage a just-in-time supply chain. If your organization actively measures your Cost to Serve, savings within your supply chain would likely be an important data point to consider.
Beyond the identifiable money savings, consider some of the soft ROI attributes, such as enhanced collaboration with supply chain and supplier partners, improved customer loyalty, brand protection generally, and sustainability initiatives. Does your organization have goals to reduce food waste? If so, perhaps waste minimization is an important attribute to measure. When evaluated holistically, significant savings can be realized.

FST: How does technology facilitate a more effective food safety culture?

Schneider: Building an effective food safety culture is a process that requires commitment from every level of your organization. The ways that we promote food safety culture within each organization differs, from rewarding team members when they identify an unsafe practice, to actively promoting food safety throughout the organization, to encouraging quality assurance teams to identify state-of-the-art technologies and implementing them to improve the systems, programs, and processes throughout the company.

As food safety professionals, our toolboxes are filled with a variety of tools for the job, and technology as a tool is no exception. Technology should enable our organizations to be more efficient, allowing them to focus their attention on high-priority projects while minimizing work that can be automated. An example of this is setting parameters to allow organizations to work based on exception instead of requiring a review of all documentation.

As we enter the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, and the tenants of it being people-led, technology-enabled, and FSMA-based, we have a mandate to try new technologies to help solve previously unsolvable supply chain challenges. Organizations are actively pursuing real-time supply chain temperature monitoring as a way to provide insights into their cold chain and allowing them to move from reaction to a position of prevention.

Organizations are finding that investments in food safety technologies pay dividends in customer commitment over the long term. It is no longer acceptable to only meet regulatory standards. It is now an expectation that companies do anything possible within their power to assure customer safety and, per the FDA’s new mandate, to help create a more digital, traceable, and safer food system.

Lessons Learned from Intentional Adulteration Vulnerability Assessments (Part II)

By Frank Pisciotta, Spence Lane
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Food defense is the effort to protect food from intentional acts of adulteration where there is an intent to cause harm. Like counterterrorism laws for many industries, the IA rule, which established a compliance framework for regulated facilities, requires that these facilities prepare a security plan—in this case, a food defense plan—and conduct a vulnerability assessment (VA) to identify significant vulnerabilities that, if exploited, might cause widescale harm to public health, as defined by the FDA. Lessons learned during the conduct of food defense vulnerability and risk assessments and the preparation of the required food defense plan are detailed throughout this three-part series of articles. Part I of this series addressed the importance of a physical security expert, insider threat detection programs, actionable process steps (APS) and varying approaches to a VA. To further assist facilities with reviewing old or conducting new VAs, Part II will touch on access, subject matter experts, mitigation strategies and community drinking water through more lessons learned from assessments conducted for the largest and most complex global food and beverage facilities.

Lesson 6: Utilization of Card Access. The FDA costs of implementing electronic access control, as reported in the Regulatory Impact Analysis document (page 25) are shown in Table 1.

Average Cost Per Covered Facility Initial Recurring Total Annualized
Prohibit after hours key drop deliveries of raw materials $ $1070 $1070
Electronic access controls for employees $1122 $82 $242
Secured storage of finished products $1999 $– $285
Secured storage of raw materials $3571 $– $508
Cameras with video recording in storage rooms $3144 $– $448
Peer monitoring of access to exposed product (not used) $47 $1122 $1129
Physical inspection of cleaned equipment $– $303 $22
Prohibit staff from bringing personal equipment $157 $– $22
Total $9993 $1455 $2878
Table I. Costs of Mitigation

In our opinion, these costs may be underreported by a factor of five or more. A more realistic number for implementing access control at an opening is $5,000 or more depending on whether the wire needs to be run in conduit, which it typically would. While there are wireless devices available, food and beverage organizations should be mindful that the use of wireless devices may in some cases result in the loss of up to 50% of electronic access control benefits. This happens because doors using this approach may not result in monitored-for-alarm conditions, such as when doors are held open too long or are forced open. Some wireless devices may be able to report these conditions, but not always as reliable as hardwired solutions. Using electronic access control without the door position monitoring capability is a mistake. From a cost standpoint, even a wireless access control device would likely be upwards of $2,000 per opening.

Lesson 7: In the interest of time, and in facilities with more complex processes (which increases the work associated with the VA), plan to have quality, food safety and physical security personnel present for the duration of the VA. But also bring in operational specialists to assess each point, step or procedure for the respective operational areas. You may wish to have a quick high-level briefing for each operational group when it’s their turn to deliberate on their portion of the manufacturing operation. Proper planning can get a hybrid style VA done in one-and-a-half to three days maximum for the most complex of operations.

Lesson 8: Conduct a thorough site tour during the assessment process; do not limit your vulnerability activity to a conference room. Both internal and external tours are important in the assessment process by all members of the team. The external tour is needed to evaluate existing measures and identify vulnerabilities by answering questions such as:

  • Is the perimeter maintained?
  • Are cameras pointed correctly?
  • Are doors secure?
  • Are vehicles screened?
  • Are guards and guard tours effective?
  • Internal tours are important to validate documented HACCP points, steps or procedures.A tour also helps to validate process steps that are in multiple parts and may need to be further assessed as a KAT, for public health impact, accessibility and feasibility or to identify issues that have become “invisible” to site employees which might serve a security purpose.
  • Properly conducted tours measure the effectiveness of a variety of potential internal controls such as:
    • Access control
    • Visitor controls
    • Use of identification measures
    • Use of GMP as a security measure (different colors, access to GMP equipment and clean rooms)
    • Effectiveness of buddy systems
    • Employee presence

Lesson 9: Do not forget the use of community drinking water in your processes. This is an easy way to introduce a variety of contaminants either in areas where water is being treated on site (even boiler rooms) or where water may sit in a bulk liquid tank with accessibility through ladders and ports. In our experience, water is listed on about half of the HACCP flow charts we assessed in the VA process.

Lesson 10: Some mitigation strategies may exist but may not be worth taking credit for in your food defense plan. Due to the record keeping requirements being modeled after HACCP, monitoring, corrective action and verification records are required for each mitigation strategy associated with an APS. This can often create more work than it is worth or result in a requirement to create a new form or record. Appropriate mitigation strategies should always be included in your food defense plan, but sometimes it produces diminishing returns if VA facilitators try to get too creative with mitigation strategies. Also, it is usually better to be able to modify an existing process or form than having to create a new one.

Lesson 11: In cases of multi-site assessments, teams at one plant may reach a different conclusion than another plant on whether an identical point, set or procedure is an APS. This is not necessarily a problem, as there may be different inherent conditions from one site to the next. However, we strongly suggest that there be a final overall review from a quality control standpoint to analyze such inconsistencies adjudicate accordingly where there is no basis for varying conclusions.

Lesson 12: If there is no person formally responsible for physical security at your site, you may have a potential gap in a critical subject matter area. Physical security measures will make at least a partial contribution to food defense. Over 30 years, we have seen many organizations deploy electronic access control, video surveillance and lock and key control systems ineffectively, which provides a false sense of security and results in unidentified vulnerability. It is as important to select the right physical security measures to deploy, but also critical to administer them in a manner that meets the intended outcome. Most companies do not have the luxury of a full-time security professional, but someone at the plant needs to be provided with a basic level of competency in physical security to optimize your food defense posture. We have developed several online training modules that can help someone who is new to security on key food defense processes and security system administration.

Lesson 13: As companies move into ongoing implementation and execution of the mitigation strategies, it is important to check that your mitigation strategies are working correctly. You will be required to have a monitoring component, correction action and verification intended for compliance assurance. However, one of the most effective programs we recommend for our clients’ food defense and physical security programs is the penetration test. The penetration test is intended to achieve continuous improvement when the program is regularly challenged. The Safe Quality Food (SQF) Institute may agree with this and now requires facilities that are SQF certified to challenge their food defense plan at least once annually. We believe that frequency should be higher. Simple challenge tests can be conducted in 10 minutes or less and provide substantial insight into whether your mitigation strategies are properly working or whether they represent food defense theater. For instance, if a stranger were sent through the plant, how long would it take for employees to recognize and either challenge or report the condition? Another test might include placing a sanitation chemical in the production area at the wrong time. Would employees recognize, remove and investigate that situation? Challenge tests are easy high impact activities; and regardless of the outcome, can be used to raise awareness and reinforce positive behaviors.

Whether training a new security officer, reviewing existing security plans or preparing for an upcoming vulnerability assessment (due July 26, 2020), these lessons learned from experienced security consultants should help to focus efforts and eliminate unnecessary steps at your facility. The final installment in this series will address broad mitigation strategies, the “Three Element” approach and food defense plan unification. Read the final installment of this series on Lessons Learned from Intentional Adulteration Vulnerability Assessments, Part III.

Jorge Hernandez, All Baroudi, 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo

Food Safety Professionals: Earn Respect and Be True to Yourself

By Maria Fontanazza
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Jorge Hernandez, All Baroudi, 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo

Food safety professionals are underappreciated. This statement was met with a round of applause last week at the seventh annual Food Safety Consortium. It was made by Bob Pudlock, president of Gulf Stream Search, who has heard the remark from folks working in this demanding field many times, as his firm works to place them in food safety and quality positions within the industry. Pudlock shared his advice on how you, the food safety professional, can better market yourself and earn the respect of peers and higher-ups, as well as how those who are doing the hiring should approach the process.

Read Bob Pudlock’s insights on recruiting in the food safety and quality field in his column series, Architect the Perfect Food Safety TeamCompany cultures change, the popularity of products (and their safety) ebbs and flows, company leadership fluctuates and a company may even move its corporate headquarters. Amidst all of these changes, the only things that a professional can control are his or her reputation, professional acumen, and enhancing one’s education, said Pudlock. “Focus your energy on improving parts of you. Invest in your brand,” he said. “You never know how you’re being perceived and who’s out there in the crowd.” He added that it’s important to take a moment to do some deep digging and ask questions that can help draw out greater meaning:

  • What do you want to be when you “grow up”?
    • Where are you in your career today?
    • What do you aspire to?
    • What are the obstacles? What’s keeping you from getting there?
Bob Pudlock, 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo
Bob Pudlock, president of Gulf Stream Search

“Get yourself in a position where you’re personally responsible for getting yourself in the right lane,” said Pudlock, emphasizing the importance of accountability. He also advises that professionals take a moment each day to work through organizational issues via journaling. Writing serves as a cathartic exercise and can help as one is going through the problem-solving process. “Work through your overwhelm with journaling,” he said.

On Earning Respect

On the final day of the Food Safety Consortium, Pudlock led a panel of industry stakeholders who shared their insights on how to remain motivated and earn the respect of peers and superiors in the industry.

Pudlock: As a food safety professional, what has contributed to your ability earn respect from the peers who you’ve worked with over the years?

Jorge Hernandez, Al Baroudi, 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo
(left to right) Jorge Hernandez, vice president, quality assurance at The Wendy’s Company and Al Baroudi, Ph.D., vice president of quality assurance and food safety at The Cheesecake Factory at the 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo

Jorge Hernandez, vice president, quality assurance at The Wendy’s Company

“What I’ve learned throughout my career is the fact that you have to understand why you are doing this. You have to reach inside and figure out for yourself, and then build your brand around that. It has to be honest; it has to be true to you. Why are you doing this? Is it to get a paycheck? Is it to get away from the kids? There are multiple reasons. There will be times in this field that you have to make the tough decisions. As you build your career, try to figure out why you really want to do this.”

April Bishop, senior director of food safety at TreeHouse Foods/Bay Valley Foods

“The ‘why’ is for those around me: We [speak] a lot of scientific jargon, and we know what we’re talking about. But the folks on the other side—in sanitation [for example], doing the most miserable job at the worst hours and in the worst condition, [for them] I need to translate all the way to the top on why we need so much time to clean the plants. Simplify the scientific jargon down to the facts that people can understand. Sell them on the ‘why’ of what they’re doing.

April Bishop, Marcus Burgess, 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo
(left to right) April Bishop, senior director of food safety at TreeHouse Foods/Bay Valley Foods and Marcus Burgess, senior food safety and quality systems specialist at The Cheesecake Factory

Marcus Burgess, senior food safety and quality systems specialist at The Cheesecake Factory

“A lot of it is communication and being able to relate at all levels from [in the field] to the top. It’s the 30-second conversation with the server or the dishwasher about why food safety is important. Being able to connect with the front line employees goes a long way. Approach the job with professionalism and sincerity. Have integrity and know the reason why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s easy to see the pot of gold. Be selfless and know that ultimately our obligations is to customers.”

Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota
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The Changing Face of Leadership in the Food and Beverage Industry

By Jennifer van de Ligt, Ph.D.
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Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota

Our food system is facing daunting challenges. We must adapt our food systems to sustainably feed almost 10 billion people by 2050 in a world with shifting climate and environmental pressures. In addition, we need to reduce the rising number of undernourished people (an estimated 821 million people in recent years) and confront the significant issue of more than 30% of food production being lost or wasted. Tackling these challenges will require collaboration across all aspects of the food system to assure that production processes, policies and regulations, food safety practices, and affordability align to assure we live in a food secure future. However, most of the current generation of leaders in the food industry has not approached leadership from the systems-thinking approach that will be required to succeed.

Thus, focusing on developing the right skills in the rising next generation of leaders in the food and beverage industry in order to solve these problems will be critical. We need people who can think broadly and are empowered to navigate the complexities of the global food system. Professionals in the food industry need to think beyond the specialties and silos where they currently work. Approaching food problems in an open-minded and cross-disciplinary way will achieve better results for business growth, population well-being, food production and planet sustainability.

In my decades of working in the food industry, I was acutely aware of the challenges that we would face in the future. Now, as part of the Integrated Food Systems Leadership program at the University of Minnesota, we are addressing these issues by helping to train the future leaders that will transform the food system. The following topics are just a few of the areas that we see as essential to develop the food leaders of tomorrow.

Next-Gen Leaders with a Holistic Approach

One of the key steps for new leaders in food and beverage industry is to adapt to food systems thinking. Most professionals were hired for their knowledge in a specific area. Now, to become next-gen leaders, they will need to think about the whole food production system and how all decisions made in this system, from sourcing and production to supply chain and retail sale, affect people and the environment.

Where we source our food and how we produce it is truly global and interconnected. The ingredient and material supply chains are vast and complex. We can no longer afford not to take into consideration where and how these items are being sourced and supplied. Additionally, we can no longer afford not to be responsible for the products produced and how they are affecting the health and well-being of consumers as well as the planet.

The next generation of leaders, no matter what part of the food system they are working in, will need to understand these relationships and think about how all these little pieces from production to marketing and sales work together. When one change is made to the system, whether the idea is from R&D or the marketing department or is caused by a new regulation, this will produce ripple effects across the food system.

True Leadership vs. Management in the Food System

Often times, the idea of leadership is thought of as just managing people—observing a team and making sure each person is doing their job. This is management and not a true definition of leadership. To be a leader means you have a vision and can paint a clear picture of what you see to others. Leaders build relationships with people who help turn a vision into reality. Leaders aren’t afraid to change the status quo and take risks if those risks will help the long-term plan. Leaders help their team achieve more than any individual on the team thought possible.

Leaders have many qualities. First, they have ideas that should be heard. However, in order for those ideas to see the light of day, professionals must know how to communicate so their opinions and thoughts are considered. Knowing how to package a vision and communicate it more effectively are critical to leadership development.

Second, leaders desire to have a meaningful impact in the world. To be able to effect change, seeing the bigger picture and understanding the interdependencies throughout the food system is paramount. As part of this, they want and need to help other people be heard to move the vision and plan forward. They will need the skills to foster collaboration and innovation within their teams and across disciplines to help everyone succeed in making the changes needed in the food system.

Third, although leaders want to grow their companies, they also want to grow personally. When a vision is created and steps taken to pave the way for that vision to come to fruition, a journey begins. Leaders know that any journey embarked upon is a life-changing experience, and they welcome that new stage.

Finally, it is important to note that leaders can be found in more places than the corner office. Leaders are not just CEOs, but come in varying roles and titles. Developing people’s leadership potential, style and goals for whatever capacity they work in is a critical part of leadership building. Leaders exist within every team, department and work group across a business. Finding them, to grow and foster their potential, is the challenge.

Fostering Professional Development in the Field

Food and beverage companies can do a great deal to address these pressing issues today by instilling a culture of learning in the organization. I have found, more often than not, people who enter this industry are passionate about it. However, when individuals enter a company, especially early in their career, they sometimes face a crisis of faith moment and question that their lifelong training has not prepared them for what they truly want to do.

Many times those in the industry feel like they have ideas or skills that aren’t being leveraged. They may feel like they aren’t being heard or that they’ve been pigeon-holed into one segment of or role in the business. These professionals could be the collateral damage of silo mentality and lack of a culture of learning and growth, especially when they are high-value and have specialized knowledge. Corporations have perfected efficiency by keeping certain departments, and individuals within them, separated in order to optimize their segment’s function. But slotting the business, and individuals, into distinct categories can hinder the ability of these organizations to see and understand the big picture.

By breaking down this silo mentality and promoting systems thinking, businesses can help their talented and dedicated people grow their career, become a better leader, and enable a move across the lattice structure within an organization. Many times these individuals feel a little lost in the mix and frustrated as a cog in the machine and are looking for growth opportunities. This doesn’t necessarily mean they want to move vertically within the organization, but rather learn and grow laterally or diagonally within an organization to both enhance their career and provide a broader benefit to the entire business.

When companies equip professionals with critical-thinking skills, they are developing their professionals who want to make a meaningful impact within their organizations as well as in the entire food system. This is true empowerment to improve the future of food and make companies viable and competitive for the future.

If a company doesn’t have this training ability internally, organizations can support programs that are helping to build these leaders. Programs like the new Integrated Food Systems Leadership are designed to help future leaders bridge the current skills gap in the food system. These future leaders will have the tools to drive the change critical for many companies to succeed while we feed the future.