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THE CONSULTANT’S VIEW: TIM SMALLWOOD FFCSI

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How safe are the ingredients that are used in your kitchen? Tim Smallwood examines how maintaining food safety is essential for an operator's reputation

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it, if you think about that, you’ll do things differently,” said investor Warren Buffet.

How safe are the ingredients being used in your kitchen? How do you know they are safe? Do you ever think about it or do you just assume because the vehicle they are delivered in has a symbol on the side with the acronym HACCP in it they are safe? Do you know what a food processor goes through to make sure the food they supply to you, your customers and to your family, safe?

For most operators HACCP is the process by which they maintain their food safety accreditation and is assumed to be the criteria by which the manufacturers and suppliers of the equipment they use is accredited. In the limited world of an individual foodservice operation this should be the most basic acceptable standard.

For a food processor this is just the starting point of their process for ensuring that what they supply their customers; you;  is safe for consumption the year around. Apart from the risk to the individual of potentially unsafe food it is the risk to the food processors brand that drives the application of the accreditation process.

Rigorously applied standards

The overriding principals used to ensure the safety of food processed for consumption globally at all levels is provided by a set of standards called Codex Alimentarius (CA); established in 1981 and maintained by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and WHO, these guidelines are the basis for the ISO22000 HACCP standards familiar to the foodservice industry.

Food processors, particularly those with a global brand recognition, understand that the application of the CA standards have to be more rigorously applied to not just guarantee the safety of the food they are processing but so that they can be seen to be producing safe food that ensures in this case the foodservice operator in the next link in the supply chain can be sure they are providing safe food for their customers.

To achieve this the food processor will have in place the essential facilities and operating systems required and ensure that they are maintained, are adequate and fit for purpose. They will be audited in the same way that the HACCP program of the caterer is audited; but more broadly, more rigorously and more regularly. The auditor then becomes a critical link in the chain and to ensure the audit process fully meets the CA requirements and therefore protects the consumer and the manufacturers brand. The audit process in this case is accredited by The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)

GFSI is a business driven initiative for the development of food safety management systems to ensure food facilities are processing safe food for consumers. GFSI does this by benchmarking, overseeing and approving different auditing platforms as meeting the gold-standard of food safety audits. GFSI Food safety audit reviews three things:

  • Does the audit supplier say what they do (reviewing policies and procedures)
  • Does the audit supplier do what they say (observing while they run, interview employees, inspect the facility)
  • Does the audit supplier track what they say ( review records)

Through ensuring that the food safety auditor’s standards and processes meet these requirements, the GFSI audit compliance ensures that a supplier is producing safe food the year round. There are a number of global food safety auditing platforms that have been benchmarked by GFSI. Some of them are industry specific, eg: fish processing. Others apply to food manufacturing and processing generally; one of these is Brand Recognition Compliance Global Standard (BRCGS).

Ensuring safety

In the same way as all GFSI accredited auditors, BRCGS is a food safety management system that provides a set of standards that food processors and manufacturers have to achieve to obtain certification for the Global Standard for Food Safety that enables them to demonstrate to their customers, including foodservice operators, that the food they are delivering is, in turn, safe for consumption or use by their customers.

The audit standards which are laid down by the BRCGS publication (#8) cover in detail:

  1. The food safety management system which provides and introduction and background to the development and benefits of the standard.
  2. The requirements of the standard with which a company must comply with in order to gain certification
  • The audit protocol which provides information on the audit process and the rules for awarding of certificates.
  1. The management and governance systems in place for the standard and the management of certification bodies registered to operate the scheme

A first critical component of the BRC global standard is #1) Senior Management Commitment to the requirements of the standard, without which it is considered that there would be no long term commitment to food safety in the operation. Following #1, the standard covers:

  1. The Food Safety Plan – HACCP (the food safety team, process flow, hazard identification, monitoring, corrective actions, verification procedures, etc.)
  2. Food Safety and Quality Management Systems (food safety & quality manual, records, traceability, complaints handling, etc.)
  3. Site Standards (security, layout, product flow, utilities, equipment, maintenance, staff facilities, chemicals, contamination, storage facilities, etc.)
  4. Product Control (including: design, labelling, allergens, packaging, inspection & testing, etc.)
  5. Process Control (operations, labelling, quantity, weight, calibration, monitoring, etc.)
  6. Personnel (training, personal hygiene, Medical screening, protective clothing, etc)
  7. High-Risk, High-Care and Ambient High-Care Production Risk Zones (special requirements for areas deemed to be of potential hire risk or requiring special care)
  8. Requirements for Traded Products (approval and performance monitoring of manufacturers/packers of traded eg: bought-in; food products)

By setting standards and the audit process for those standards, BRCGS (and those of  the other GFSI accredited audit entities) provide the means for the actual auditors on the ground to perform the audit task. BRCGS will accredit the individual auditors in each region and country to ensure that they are qualified to audit each type of food production process. For instance an auditor experienced in canning is not assigned to audit a bakery.

It can be seen that in food processing and manufacturing the food safety standards compliance is far more rigorous and has more levels of checks and balances than the simple HACCP compliance undertaken by parts but by no means all of the foodservice industry. In some even advanced communities even this basic level of compliance is considered too onerous and expensive to undertake.

When considering what many of the suppliers to these foodservice operators go through to protect their customers and brands, is it not acceptable for a foodservice operator to maintain the food safety of their link in the chain from farm to fork?

To quote another business leader in Jeff Bezos: “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.”

Tim Smallwood FFCSI