It’s 7 am and the canning plant is changing shifts. As the new quality assurance manager, you are looking at your to-do list and realize that the same topic has been at the top of the list all week: Food Safety Plan—a daunting topic but critical for the future success of the business and for the acknowledged safety of your company’s products being served in consumers homes.
Where to Begin?
For many companies, there are already procedures and common sense practices in place for sanitation, equipment cleaning and employee hygiene, to name a few. But that is not enough. As the quality assurance manager, you are looking to take food safety to the highest level, which includes selecting a food safety standard or scheme that will be audited by a certification body in order to claim that all-important food safety certification.
We talk to many start-ups, and emerging and expanding companies that are at the beginning of the certification process or are perhaps fine-tuning an existing plan. To assure success for a company at every step along the way, we have witnessed the most successful companies begin with a three-step process:
- Assemble your food safety team, including top management
- Research, implement and document a HACCP Plan
- Select a food safety standard to guide the process along the way
Our customers use many resources to assist with a start-up food safety plan, to fine-tune an existing plan or to integrate new food products and processes into an existing plan. Here are their suggestions:
- Select a certification standard to follow: Companies are best served when they align their food safety program with a recognized standard. Each standard offers a structure to follow, documentation to track, and operational and functional guidelines to address to be “compliant” within the context of the segment of the industry they are tracking.
- Get organized: Every customer of ours talks about the challenge to get procedures, documentation and their HACCP plan organized. Checklists, provided on the website from standard holders, like BRC Global and SQF, offer details of processes and procedures to review in your own shop. Our technical staff recommends reviewing the published standard, line for line, to make sure your company has all of its bases covered prior to an audit. Many companies compile a digital record, or even a binder with paper printouts of validation and verification records, for documentation of critical control points. Both are acceptable to prove verification to a food safety auditor.
- Get industry and FDA/USDA advice: John Z, a food safety project manager at a food packaging company in Gurnee, IL started his company on the path to their food safety certificate with information from the FDA website and online conversations with industry colleagues. A large customer was mandating that John’s company acquire a food safety certification in order to continue to do business. That same customer was helpful in highlighting specific areas in a food safety plan that were critical to winning the business. John also reached out, via LinkedIn, to his industry community for advice and was both delighted and surprised at the wealth of information he was able to glean from asking general questions using the online format.
- Consultants: Consultants can be found by searching the Internet for the industry segment that your company operates in, whether it is food processing, storage and distribution or food packaging. When we asked Bill Bremer of Kestrel Management for the top three reasons to utilize a consultant, he commented:
- A good consultant can offer the “right-size compliance” for the food safety standard selected and the needs of the organization.
- The company’s people-resources can be reviewed for additional training, to assure that the organization has the talent in place to handle the verification and validation needed for a successful and comprehensive food safety management system.
- Consultants are an efficient resource to assist an organization to manage changes in products, processes and regulatory requirements and to update HACCP and FSMA plans. Bill commented that about 80% of HACCP plans he reviews are… like a lot of food, “overdone or underdone!”
Consultants work on a contract basis that can be scaled to the needs of the organization. References are often offered or requested to get an independent voice on the credentials of the consultant.
- Industry Associations: Most industries have an industry association affiliated with their product or process. Typically a membership-based approach offers many benefits to the members for event participation, resources and shared information. Non-members often can sign up for newsletters or association announcements.
- State Extension Services: State governments have detailed information and free resources on their public health websites, pertaining to local food safety processing and handling regulations. As part of a company’s HACCP plan to comply with local regulations, these resources are specific to your site and must be followed according to local codes and business licenses.
A comprehensive and effective food safety program is not an option, it is a necessity. The liability your organization assumes for consumer complaints or health safety recalls would be financially devastating to most companies. Your time and effort in designing, implementing and maintaining such a program assures your organization that customers, consumers and your bottom line are protected.