The COVID-19 pandemic is putting tremendous stress on the food supply chain, from farm-to-fork, as the industry struggles to balance increased demand with the disruptive threat of the virus on business and the workforce. For food manufacturers, an unintended consequence of actions being implemented to protect workers from COVID-19 -- social-distance rules and increased hand-washing for example – is the risk caused by relaxing normal food safety procedures. Indeed, the FDA and USDA have temporarily stopped plant inspections. This presents a significant opportunity for food suppliers to mitigate through workflow automation and enabling of remote monitoring.
Author's note -- Caution: soapbox rant ahead! This will definitely come across as a soap-box-ish rant. As with any source of enlightenment and learning, the newly indoctrinated are historically known to be a bit overzealous and passionate about their newly gained knowledge, As someone recently certified with PCQI credentials, this author falls squarely into that category. Nevertheless, the import of the training and the understanding of how food safety is designed as a living “system” is so important, that it deserves a soapbox treatment. So with that context, read on!
Use this checklist to help avoid Tens of Millions in damage costs, severe brand equity loss, and unexpected food audits.
Consider this hypothetical food safety situation: A manufacturing facility tests positive for bacteria. In response to the finding, they issue a voluntary recall. The decision-makers in the C-suite desire to limit the damage as much as possible in order to protect the brand and the bottom line, perhaps without fully understanding the direct impact doing so can have on the company’s compliance with FSMA requirements and overall brand success. Here’s how the situation unfolds.
For years we have approached problems that arise within the food supply chain in a segmented manner. If something happens at step 27 along the chain, X, Y, and Z are identified as the appropriate controls, corrective actions, and measures to take. This is a limited, even stove-pipe, approach to food safety that may be hitting its limits in the modern food industry. In their most literal sense, chains should be comprised of distinct yet interconnected links. The food supply chain is no different. While every phase, from farming, to production, to processing, to packaging, to transportation and to retail has a different yet important role, it is critical that we understand how they work together, and how the information created at each step interrelates. This is particularly important to creating an advanced, interconnected food safety scenario - one that the FDA has recently referred to as “A new era of smarter food safety”. Creating an effective food safety system, such as suggested by the FDA statement from this month, requires more than just interconnectivity, it requires interoperability. Collaboration will soon no longer be a suggestion, but a necessity.
What is your organization doing to ensure that it’s conforming to your own food safety and quality assurance policies, as well as preparing for 2nd or 3rd party audits -- external audits from third parties like customers and regulators? If you haven’t implemented a formal process for conducting internal food safety audits, it’s time to consider that doing so can significantly limit organizational risk, reduce operational inefficiencies and even save money over the long term. To help you grasp the full impact, we’re sharing some holistic ways to think about the immense value of establishing a formal, dedicated internal audit process.
There’s a well-known cliche that says, “Information is power.” It’s a wise saying – one that’s certainly proven to be true in the areas of food safety and quality. But the interesting thing about information is that it’s both infinite and ever-changing. What the age-old adage doesn’t clearly communicate is that information is only as powerful as the processes and tools used to harness it.