The supply chain is a potentially weak and vulnerable part of a company’s food safety plan. The annual Food Safety Supply Chain Conference is months away and we are accepting abstracts for presentations. The conference takes place May 29–30, 2019 in Rockville, MD.
If you have expertise in the following areas, we invite you to submit an abstract to present at the conference:
No two facilities will have the same food safety plan, as each should address the specific needs of that facility. Before beginning your draft, there are several critical factors to consider. Use the guide below as a checklist to review before starting or revisiting your own food safety plan—the following tips can be applied to all food and beverage processors and manufacturers.
1. Review current legislation that applies to your industry
The food safety sector evolves rapidly. Keep your finger on the pulse of updates and changes, whether current or forthcoming, to ensure that your plan is current and up to code. You can quickly familiarize yourself with guidelines and regulatory bodies dealing with your industry with a handful of excellent resources. Generally, we recommend starting with the FDA website, and from there you can navigate to resources that are specific to your industry. We also recommend you make use of the FDA’s Food Safety Plan Builder to assist you in meeting requirements for Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventative Controls for Human Food regulation.
2. Identify current potential risks in your facility
Once familiar with your industry requirements and inspection standards, the next step is to identify any current potential food safety risks specific to your facility. Be sure to incorporate employees at all levels while detailing these potential hazards or concerns. Oftentimes, employees at the management level will make note of things different than employees working on the plant floor. And the delivery truck driver’s perspective will vary from those of your janitorial team. Aim to build a comprehensive list, noting everything from obvious high-risk areas, to what might be trivial or unlikely facility hazards. The more robust the list, the easier your food safety plan will be to form later on.
3. Consider your facility layout
Your facility’s physical layout often determines what type of food safety plan is necessary. Ask yourself:
Does your facility have natural zones?
Is it comprised of multiple buildings?
Are certain defined areas more high-risk than others?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’ll most likely want to incorporate a zone-based color-coding plan as a part of your food safety plan to ensure that all of your tools remain in their proper location and are used correctly.
4. Review the quality of your current tools
Take stock of your current tools, that includes everything used to make or process your product and everything required to clean the facility itself. Consider the tool quality—are these presentable and acceptable for an inspector to see? Do your brushes have loose bristles? Has your mop seen better days? Tools that are made of low-quality materials or are not in top shape present potential risks for a food-safe environment. Note which tools need to be replaced and perhaps consider incorporating color-coded tools if you have not yet done so, as they are a great way to step up your food safety practices and safeguard against cross contamination.
5. Review and communicate the food safety plan and training procedures
Review your current employee training materials –in particular, your cleaning and sanitation measures and food handling procedures–and hold a meeting to go over current training protocols with your team. Consider the following questions:
Are the expectations made clear?
Are there references to procedures that are no longer up to date?
Is there appropriate signage that can be readily referenced?
Is information available for non-native speakers?
Are the appropriate channels in place for employees to voice concerns about these training procedures?
Be sure to take notes on each of these items that need to be addressed. One of the most important pieces of a food safety plan – and something inspectors pay close attention to – is that it is properly communicated to all employees. Taking detailed notes as you discuss these procedures will be helpful in documenting your training methodology for the food safety plan and, of course, will help you to ensure that the training procedures themselves are the best they can be.
6. Consider the documentation requirements for your industry.
Your industry might require certain specific documentation for your food safety plan, which can include facility policies, procedures, safety review records, maps and more. Additionally, some governing bodies require that the food safety plan is completed by a certified individual who doesn’t necessarily need to be an employee of the facility. Review all necessary requirements to ensure that you satisfy all of these standards for your next inspection.
Should you have any questions when getting ready to start on your plan, we suggest you reach out to a company that specializes in color-coding tools, as they have experience in creating plans to accommodate all kinds of identified risks and can be a great resource.
Sanitation in a food processing plant is a large-scale effort that many organizations see as an added cost of doing business. Yet, it’s essential and can have costly consequences if done improperly.
Because time is money and facilities want to avoid any necessary downtime, the window for completing proper sanitation procedures is small. Many food processors simply put more people on the job while requiring them to work third shift, hoping to get things done faster.
Automating certain sanitation procedures in your plant can provide real benefits, many of which will help reduce the costs associated with food safety and keeping your facility clean. Here’s a look at the three main ways food plants can save by implementing automated sanitation solutions.
1. Resource Management
When you invest in sanitation automation, one of the biggest advantages is the increased understanding of how resources are being used. This knowledge and improved visibility gives you control of how resources such as water and chemicals are used during sanitation.
Perhaps the most significant area in which facilities experience savings is through reduction of water usage. Automated solutions improve the efficiency of rinse cycles while ensuring appropriate water pressure is being used. Every plant has unique water needs, but you should expect water savings between 30% and 50%, depending on the solutions that are applied.
Sanitation automation will also lead to a reduction in energy costs. Using less water means less energy is required to heat that water. Advancements in sanitation technology have made certain solutions more energy efficient. Features such as multi-stage pumps for full alternation, motors that allow pumps to ramp up and down as needed, and flow switches that send pumps into “hibernate” mode help reduce electricity usage.
Waste water from food processing also needs to be treated before it goes down the drain. Less water treatment means fewer chemicals are needed.
Food processors that introduce automated sanitation solutions will use cleaning chemicals more efficiently. Automation ensures chemicals are dispensed precisely where they are needed at the correct concentration, without any over spray. Again, while every situation is unique, most facilities can expect a 20–30% reduction in chemistry costs.
In the end, you will have a very clear picture of the amount of water and chemistry needed to complete sanitation, and you’ll know the amount of time it should take. That means you can plan for more uptime.
Overall, not only can automation help food processors make efficient use of resources, it also makes them more sustainable.
2. Labor Costs
Labor is yet another resource that can be more effectively managed when there’s an investment in sanitation automation. The labor market is tight, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to hire the people needed to carry out sanitation work.
Sanitation often involves menial and tedious tasks that also require attention to detail. It usually entails working overnight when production stops, and certain responsibilities can be dangerous. At the same time, minimum wage is rising, and many organizations are looking to reduce labor costs.
Introducing sanitation automation can certainly cut labor expenses and remove the need to hire more people, but more importantly, it can make the workers you do have more productive. Automation should be used to eliminate menial tasks from sanitation workers. For example, instead of a person standing in front of a conveyor belt and spraying it down with a hose for hours on end, the job could be easily automated.
We worked with a brewer who was having two employees take as long as three hours to clean a filler. By automating that task, they turned it into a 45-minute job and allowed those employees to refocus their efforts. Plus, the before and after pictures of the equipment show a visible difference in cleanliness.
You can trust an automation solution to do a consistent job, and it will never call in sick.
Still, you’ll always need to have “boots on the ground” and human eyes evaluating sanitation. Automating certain sanitation practices will free up employees to work on more important duties that add value and keep them engaged in their work.
3. Mitigating Safety Risks
The most important thing sanitation automation provides is more peace of mind. No one wants to lose sleep worrying about a failed inspection or the potential for a worker injury. Automation reduces the risk of product contamination and lessens potentially dangerous situations for employees.
For instance, spiral freezers are particularly precarious areas to clean. Automating its cleaning process eliminates the need for a worker to maneuver through an unsafe space, reducing the likelihood of a workplace injury.
Human labor can also lead to human error. But, when sanitation tasks are automated, they become more consistent and easily repeatable. This is especially important for cleaning hard-to-reach problem spots that become harborage areas for bacteria. There may be a tendency among human workers to skip areas they can’t reach, or fail to clean them properly, but a machine cleans everything the same every time.
The monetary risk of contamination inside your facility is significant. For example, if Listeria were to take up residence in a plant, it could cost your business millions of dollars.
According to a study from the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association, the average food product recall will have direct costs of $10 million while indirect costs could reach into the hundreds of millions. That’s because you also need to consider the ongoing cost of a damaged brand reputation, not to mention lost productivity from business interruptions and lost profits from disposing of potentially contaminated product.
Sanitation Automation: The Future is Now
There are many reasons to start implementing automation into your food and beverage plant’s sanitation practices. Food processors in Europe have been quicker to adopt these solutions because many of the same issues U.S. manufacturers face, such as wages and resource scarcity, can be even more pronounced overseas.
As the labor market in the United States presents challenges for hiring managers, and drought conditions in some regions make water a scarce commodity, automation presents an opportunity to bring your facility into the future. Add to those concerns the increased regulations from FSMA, and there is even more reason to invest in dependable sanitation solutions.
Food processors need to find trusted advisors who can evaluate operations inside the plant and look for ways to implement automation in ways that make the largest impact.
While there is certainly an upfront cost in automating sanitation, the potential savings and added visibility these solutions provide won’t take long to pay for themselves. In most cases, facilities that invest in sanitation automation will see a return within a year to 18 months. If done properly, you can achieve impressive cost-saving results through automation.
As the applications of connected devices continues to drive innovation and create exciting possibilities throughout the food processing industry, the impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on pest management in the food supply chain is already easy to recognize. An ecosystem of connected devices streamlines several processes that are integral to an effective integrated pest management plan, providing convenience and saving time for both food manufacturers and their pest management partners. From creating a smart network of devices that detect changes and track movement in the pest population to seamless reporting procedures that cut down on paperwork, we’re already seeing the benefits of a more connected world on a very important aspect of food safety.
Judy Black will host a free webinar, along with her colleague Jeff Robbins, director of commercial pest marketing, on the applications of IoT in pest management throughout the food supply chain on Wednesday, Aug. 9 at 1:00 pm ET/10:00 am PT. Register hereAt the ground level—often quite literally—we have networked traps for pests ranging from stored product insects to rodents. Each trap tracks the pests it captures and reports its readings to a central hub in real time, providing an instant snapshot of changes in the pest population and triggering notifications when that population exceeds pre-set parameters—well before the pests create an issue. Beyond knowing when a pest population increases in a facility, this network of connected monitoring devices can pinpoint where those pests are congregating, allowing the facility’s pest management partner to identify and eliminate the source of the issue quickly.
Beyond those devices on the front lines, the IoT also has a major impact on the behind-the-scenes management of pest management processes. With the increase in reporting requirements brought on by the adoption of FSMA earlier in the decade came a lot of new paperwork for food manufacturers. On the pest management front, the paper trail required to track the steps taken to reduce the risk of pest infestation represents a significant commitment of time and effort on the part of facility managers. Working with a pest management partner that understands the opportunities connected devices provide means less paperwork; a centralized online hub allows facility managers to review their partner’s recommendations, indicate the steps they’ve taken to address issues and close the loop without having to touch a file cabinet.
The availability of this pest-tracking data allows forward-thinking pest management companies to be more efficient and better informed. By compiling and analyzing this data, they can identify regional trends in pest populations, allowing them to be better prepared to recognize and resolve pest issues early and to stay ahead of cyclical fluctuations in the pest population.
We often talk about technology in terms of the impact it will have in the future, but in the pest management business, we’re already seeing the benefits of a connected ecosystem of devices. While the technology will continue to evolve and improve, it’s important for food manufacturers to recognize the benefits of working with a pest management partner that embraces the IoT. By streamlining and centralizing the processes of monitoring and reporting on pest management practices, this technology saves time and reduces the risks pests pose throughout the food supply chain.
The supply chain of a single product often involves multiple levels. For a company to adequately evaluate its risk and vulnerability, it must have a grasp on the full extent of its supply chain, according to Amy Kircher, Dr. PH, director, Food Protection and Defense Institute. “When we think about the supply chain there are two points to consider: One is just being aware of the depth and breadth of a supply chain to create a food product. It’s much larger than who you buy from and who you sell to,” says Kircher. “Second is moving from a reactive mentality to a proactive mentality. How do we get ahead and close vulnerabilities before they are exposed or monitor threats to the food system such that we can put mitigations in place.” During a discussion with Food Safety Tech, Kircher shares her perspective on how companies can understand and protect their supply chain.
Food Safety Tech: What are the biggest supply chain threats facing food companies?
Amy Kircher: I think one of the biggest challenges is just understanding the entire food supply chain and all the buying, selling and manufacturing that happens along that line. When food comes from a point of origin—whether it’s a farm or a manufactured nutrient—what are all the steps and movements of that product that then results in the final product that the end consumer buys? Typically companies know at least one [step] back and one [step] forward, but they don’t always know the entire breadth of the particular ingredient that they’re buying. Or, if they’re in the middle of the supply chain, [they may not know] where all of their products may be going if it’s sold multiple times (i.e., a spice as an ingredient). There are exceptions—some companies are vertically integrated and know their entire supply chain. But on average, that is a real challenge: Understanding the complexity of the supply chain, where are you in that process, whom you are buying from, and where the food is going afterwards.
FST: How can companies gain a better understanding of their supply chain?
Kircher: Ask questions of whom you’re buying product from—from where are they sourcing the ingredient or commodity? For example, if you’re making a five-component food product, ask your supplier, where does it get its stock from? From where are you sourcing? Have an open dialogue with your vendors and make sure you have the process in place so if you had to quickly identify where an [ingredient] was from, you could.
Secondly, understand the ingredients that you need to procure and be able to monitor where there might be threats for that particular product or commodity. If you need to buy peppers as an ingredient for a spice blend or a can of soup, [you should] be able to monitor what’s happening in that particular commodity: Has there been an intentional adulteration recently? Any recalls? Have there been weather issues in the part of the world where your particular pepper is sourced? If we know there is a natural disaster in a region, how quickly are you notified? Do you have alternate sources as a backup?
A great example is the Ebola [outbreak]: When Ebola happened, there were changes that were happening with cocoa almost daily, because most of the cocoa is sourced out of West Africa, exactly where Ebola was happening. There were price shifts and some transfer concerns where cargo ships weren’t coming into port in some of those countries. It’s important to have an understanding of the ingredients or commodities that you source and be well aware of what’s happening in that landscape.
FST: What steps should companies take to protect their supply chain?
Kircher: You should be doing vulnerability and risk assessments of your supply chain. Know where there are risks of that particular supply: Those risks could be a multitude of things, be it a natural risk or something related to a change in trade policy. Know where you have vulnerabilities within your system: Where could a particular product be exposed to a vulnerability, either natural or intentional? [From there], start assessing what can be done about it. If there’s a specific ingredient that you need to have to make a particular product, where does it come from and do you have alternative sources? What kind of testing mechanisms do you have in place? Some vendors only have one manufacturing site or one receiving site for a product they’re manufacturing. How secure is that processing plant? Is it in a hurricane zone? Have you had criminal activity there? Understanding where there are vulnerabilities in your supply chain allows you to prioritize which ones you should spend money on mitigating.
FST: What technologies do you find to be the most effective in assessing risks and providing visibility throughout the supply chain?
Kircher: I think there are several products that will help. At the Food Defense and Protection Institute, we have a couple. The first is a supply chain documentation and analysis tool (CRISTAL) that allows you to document your supply chain throughout the whole system. Then it applies weights and algorithms to allow you to see what is most critical in your supply chain, and from there you can look at risks from hazards. For a lot of companies, the first step is to map the entire supply chain. Having technology that allows them to do that efficiently versus drawing or creating an Excel spreadsheet allows them to visualize where they might have gaps/challenges, followed by risk and vulnerability assessment.
Second is horizon scanning, or looking at early indications of warnings of events. Our tool is called FIDES (Focused Integration of Date for Early Signals). It looks at predicative analytics—are there conditions or drivers that are occurring that might result in an emerging event or event that might create a problem? We can always scan and monitor where we might have challenges.
We want to move people from a reactive food protection and defense to a preventive posture where you are starting to be ahead of it [threats] and understand where you might have a risk or vulnerability that gets exposed such that you can mitigate it prior to a consumer purchasing [the product].
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