Whether you have a food safety trained professional on staff in the United States or not, your customers and the law both require that you know what you are doing. And we know that in smaller companies, everyone has a shared part to the quality and safety of the product. Everyone is contributing in multiple ways and wearing multiple hats. And that leaves little time for a strategic approach to food safety. Instead, it lends itself towards tactical, which could mean you overlook something critical. So what do you do?
First, get strategic..... HOW? I suggest change your scenery and take several deep breaths. That will remove the distractions that happen on a daily basis in a manufacturing plant. Then figure out how to get the cultural focus of your operations more on food safety than on sales and volume. That's not easy, I know. I have been there.
Next - be sure that the technical food safety element is met in the facility. Whether you are USDA or FDA monitored, the FDA's new Preventive Controls for Food for Human or Animal Consumption gives a good foundation by looking at 4 areas of the product flow: processing, sanitation, supply chain and allergen control. I like to think of Preventive Controls as HACCP (hazard analysis critical control points) on steroids. This new food safety plan no longer relies on the LAST potential step to be the point the hazard is controlled. Instead, it requires that the manufacturer look at every step from the raw material supplier to the end consumer and identify where there might be a failure in the process. Why is this better? It's keeping the end in mind the entire process instead of at the last point that you can stop it - think Japanese verses American auto manufacturer processes. In the food industry, that means if the consumers tend to eat raw cookie dough, the supplier is now required to review their processes to control the potential pathogenic risks and consider it at every step of the process instead of relying on the customer to bake it properly. THIS is a shift in thinking and forces the manufacturer to look at their program more thoroughly and build accountability into every position.
And that is exactly what it takes to develop a shift in thinking in the manufacturing industry. Changing the culture is critical. Even if you have a quality focused culture, that does not mean that the facility has a food safety mindset. Oftentimes, the production plan is driving the activities and decisions. There are strategic ways to change the culture as well instead of just document management and record keeping.
Here are 4 tips on how to change the culture in your company to be more food safety minded:
1) COMMITMENT FROM THE TOP
Your QA team should not be on an island spitting out occasional reports and escorting auditors through your facility. You should have regular meetings with them. The leadership should require regular plant-wide food safety focused meetings - once or twice a month to discuss trends in the industry and how the company is working to prevent those. The management conducts food safety related training more often than the requirement for that food safety certification and assist with internal auditing for food safety purposes.
2) WHAT YOU MEASURE IS WHAT IS VALUED
Employees AND MANAGEMENT are measured on food safety practices - attending all training, attending beginning and end of shift meetings, participating in root cause analysis activities, reporting problems, etc. If you value food safety, you have to measure by it, live it and breathe it within your culture.
3) ANYONE CAN SHUT THE LINE DOWN
Employees are empowered and encouraged at every level to stop production to correct a food safety related issue. Any plant employee should have this authority and be reminded that they have the power to stop the line. If you are worried they will shut the line down for a non-food safety related issue, then train them what a food safety issue looks like. And if that becomes a problem, train again. Really, you want a team that is overly cautious instead of a team that is either unaware of the food safety risks at hand or that doesn't pay attention at all.
4) VALUE DOCUMENTING AND STRATEGY
Documentation is important, but it is not the only thing related to food safety. Oftentimes, the QA team gets stuck with the role of documenting and double-checking everything from the production. Assist your QA team by making the production team monitor critical food safety documentation that is related to their areas (temperature charts, equipment testing, etc.). And hold those teams accountable - have the supervisors review the documentation to make sure nothing was missed. If there was something missed, have them investigate why and make it a priority to them.
The truth is that in manufacturing, as we all know, time can get away from you and there are thousands of distractions on a daily basis. Culture is a tough code to crack, but when you have a food safety culture, you have the keys to success for your business. Food safety is a foundational requirement to good customer relations. If you don't have food safety, you don't have repeat consumers and you don't have happy customers. Without customers, you're sunk.
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