Complaints handling under GFSI

Contents

  1. The Need for an Effective Complaints Handling System
  2. GFSI Requirements for Complaints Handling
  3. Complaints Policy & Procedure
  4. Complaint Sources
  5. Complaint Capturing
  6. Investigation & Corrective Action
  7. Complaint Monitoring & Trending
  8. Continuous Improvement

1. The Need for an Effective Complaints Handling System

Most managers responsible for food safety dread a customer complaint. Whether it is received directly from the consumer or from a retail customer, at best it represents in their minds, a failure of their food safety management system. In the worst case scenario it can trigger a crisis management situation leading to a recall or withdrawal of product from the market. Complaints can be costly leading to a loss of business and customer confidence. In many ways, customer complaints are one of the more obvious indications that improvement can be achieved and this responsibility usually falls to the food safety manager.

At the same time complaints are a fact of life for any food business. They are practically unavoidable. A food process, like any other process, experiences variation and other failures which can lead to complaints. While accepting this reality we should never be comfortable with it. As people producing food for consumption we should always maintain a reasonable level of discomfort regarding process variation and the resultant issues. This is the basis upon which we build a culture of dealing with complaints professionally. Core to this is the complaints handling procedure and the supporting management practices that ensure we maintain complaints at acceptable levels, address critical complaints correctly, protect public health and embrace continuous improvement.

The objective of any food safety management system is protection of the health of the consuming public. This is driven by the legal, commercial and moral obligations of the food business not to cause harm, injury or death to any individual who consumes its products. Food safety management is an effective tool in meeting these obligations. As is the cause with any management system the identification, collection and analysis of data is essential to allow decisions to be made and actions taken. When it comes to the safe production of food any data which indicates a real or pending failure in control is enormously valuable. Customer complaints are one such data source that provides the management systems with high quality information necessary for effective control and to generate improvement in food safety programs.

An effective complaints handling system will comprise the following:

  • Policy and complaints handling procedure
  • Clear identification of all possible complaint sources
  • Complaint capturing
  • Investigation and root cause analysis
  • Corrective action
  • Complaint trending and analysis
  • Continual improvement

The above elements are typically required to meet the specific requirements of the multiple food retailers and other customers. The system is focused on maximising the value of the data collected, ensuring it is accurate and feeds in to a process designed to determine the actual cause, take actions to address the customer’s immediate concerns and prevent the reoccurrence. Further to this the above approach requires that more detailed analysis of the general body of complaints data is analysed and used as the basis for on-going improvements.