Bob didn’t even get a chance to have a sip of coffee before he noticed the blinking red light on his phone indicating that a voice message was waiting for him. As he moved papers around his desk he entered his password into his phone and started reviewing the messages from the weekend. The first 2 were messages left over from Friday evening, but then he heard the customer support manager’s distressed voice notifying him that they had received several foreign material complaints which all shared a similar day code. Bob knew the drill so he scribbled the day code onto a post-it note and made his way to the dozen or so banker’s boxes that held last year’s production records. He found the right box and thumbed through the index to find the folder he needed. As he quickly scanned the records he noticed that his own initials were on the bottom of every page so proceeded with confidence that nothing would have made it past his review. The strainer report looked fine, in line magnet checks were all ok. Nothing looked out of the ordinary so for all intents and purposes Bob was planning to email the customer support manager back to let her know that nothing was found in the records. As Bob headed back to his office with the folder in hand, he recalled some construction which was going on near the filling line at the time and he wondered if it could be connected. “Probably just a coincidence,” he thought as he finally started to drink his coffee. As he looked through the records one last time, that’s when a little note in a comments section of a QC check caught his eye and caused him to pause. The comment read “maintenance stopped the line at 15:30 so they could remove the overhead can track”.
It’s safe to assume that since Bob was retrieving his records from Banker’s boxes that his company primarily had a paper-based system which meant that the data retrieval would be a tedious, mind-numbing exercise that might take hours, if not days!
Anyone who has worked in food safety can relate to the above scenario and the ensuing gargantuan effort required to retrieve the necessary data required to investigate the issue properly. Maintenance records, sanitation records, QC checks, etc. It’s safe to assume that since Bob was retrieving his records from Banker’s boxes that his company primarily had a paper-based system which meant that the data retrieval would be a tedious, mind-numbing exercise that might take hours, if not days!
Rewind to a year ago when Bob’s company took a look at a software program which would make data retrieval a breeze. The time savings alone would be worth the investment, not to mention that an electronic solution would have provided an additional layer of security within the program to notify leadership when particular criteria were met, and the programs themselves would be set up in alignment with the global food safety schemes, legislation, and industry best practices so their t’s would be crossed and their I’s dotted with regards to their programs. With that consideration, an event like described above wouldn’t have gone unnoticed in the first place!
As a responsible food manufacturer, you’ve likely decided to make some type of investment, but what happens when you don’t look at the big picture, or when you get it wrong?
Whether it’s because of a customer’s demand, or certification under food safety regulations like GFSI (http://www.mygfsi.com/certification/certification/how-to-achieve-certification.html), or compliance to legislation such as FSMA (https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/default.htm), many companies find themselves in the situation where they have an opportunity to improve their food safety systems by making an investment. This investment might come in the form of human resources, buildings and grounds, equipment or technology. As a responsible food manufacturer, you’ve likely decided to make some type of investment, but what happens when you don’t look at the big picture, or when you get it wrong? Let’s consider that for a moment.
It is easy to think that we can get to the top by putting all of our eggs inside of one basket. For instance, when our food safety programs require significant improvement the decision might be made to spend time and money recruiting a food safety expert who will come onboard and improve our programs by tweaking a few SOP’s and tightening up the few loose ends that are sure to attract a low audit score. While that is a logical step, it’s not the only step that should likely be taken because no matter how qualified a food safety leader is, there is only so much that one person can do if improvements aren’t also made to the infrastructure within the manufacturing plant. On the other side of that same coin, negative consequences can occur if investments are made only in getting shiny new equipment, but no effort is made to train the staff adequately, or obtain the qualified experts needed to operate the new equipment effectively. Whether we are investing in human resources or our plant’s infrastructure, we can’t overlook the advancements in technology which can be used to strengthen our programs and help to align the programs with tough requirements. A lack of balance is a recipe for disaster!
Cultivating a proper food safety culture within your organization is vital to a sustainable company.
If you’re familiar with the GFSI schemes, like BRC (https://www.brcglobalstandards.com/) or SQF (http://www.sqfi.com/) for instance, it’s no mistake that Management Commitment is at the forefront of the requirements. Cultivating a proper food safety culture within your organization is vital to a sustainable company, and we’ve all seen what happens when food safety takes a back seat to making a profit at all costs! In the past, Quality and Food Safety were looked at as cost centers which only made their way to the organizational chart because they were a necessary evil. A well-developed food safety program should encompass your entire company populace from the CEO to the Janitor. Without an equal drive and commitment from all aspects of the business, again you’re heading for disaster!
Now let’s look at Bob a year from now. The foreign material incident had resulted in a full-blown product recall. Bob’s company decided to make the much-needed improvements so there wouldn’t be a repeat performance, but they were purposed to do it the right way. New equipment was brought in to replace the old, worn out relics scattered around the facility. Bob hired a qualified assistant to help him out with these tasks and they could convince the company to become certified to a GFSI recognized standard. An experienced HR manager was brought in to revamp the employee training program. The company revisited the software they were looking at and decided to make the smart investment in it. No one thing was the silver bullet, but the cumulative effort is what elevated the company’s food safety management program to the next level!