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Beyond FSMA Compliance: What’s Really Required to Ensure Food Safety and Protect Your Brand

By: Mike Koeris on June 14th, 2017

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Beyond FSMA Compliance: What’s Really Required to Ensure Food Safety and Protect Your Brand

FSMA  |  Food Safety

If your corporation has established protocols and behaviors that satisfy all the requirements for FSMA compliance, you’re certainly on the right track. After all, these new rules are mandatory for food manufacturers, so you’d be facing significant penalties and risks by failing to comply. But if you’re focused solely on checking off the compliance boxes to avoid legal ramifications, you’re definitely missing the bigger food safety picture -- and that could have a negative impact on your brand.

FSMA compliance isn’t the ultimate goal. It’s certainly part of the journey; in fact, it’s an absolutely necessary component. Still, the primary objective is far more involved than that.

Your overall concern must be to protect your customers and your brand -- because without these two assets, you don’t have a business.

Unless you adapt your entire food safety approach to support these two focuses, you’ll never see the fruits of your compliance efforts or maintain a successful operation.  

With that said, it’s important to shift your perspective on FSMA compliance and food safety. To construct a program that fosters regulatory compliance, mitigates the risks of recalls, makes consumer safety a top priority and elevates your brand, you’ll need to incorporate the following building blocks.

Dynamic, Multi-Level Training

Cultivating a strong food safety culture within your company is essential. Every team member that contributes to your operations has the potential to positively or negatively impact your food safety risk management efforts. Unless employees at all levels are on board with your approach and fully educated on their role in it, you can’t possibly sustain a successful, compliant program. Think about it. Even a lower-level employee can unknowingly jeopardize your brand and others in the company wouldn’t even know about it without transparency.

That means everyone must be continuously learning. As rules and industry insights evolve, you need a way to communicate those changes and train employees on how to adapt. The entire team has to fully understand what your food safety practices are, why those practices exist and what each individual must do to uphold them. Utilizing a system that enables you to be transparent can breed accountability and allow for continuous feedback.

Training must be a robust, consistently reinforced and documented effort. Work on developing training procedures that involve the following elements:

  • A multi-disciplinary food safety culture team that formulates and leads your training strategy
  • Strong, effective communication tools and efforts
  • Qualitative and quantitative methods of measuring or analyzing success
  • Opportunities to provide employees with feedback
  • A reward structure
  • Resources that facilitate learning
  • Technology that supports visibility and efficiency throughout the company

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Plant-Wide Transparency

Transparency, just like training and education, has to be default throughout your organization. Food safety touches every department from top to bottom, including plant managers, corporate quality and food safety personnel, the corporate supply chain, operations, maintenance, quality assurance, the laboratory, crisis management and every team member in between. If any of these groups or individuals does not have the benefit of transparency into food safety data, activities and communications, they cannot effectively contribute to the overall goals.  

Wide-reaching transparency translates to more successful monitoring and control efforts. Your food safety systems will only be as successful as the knowledge and insight upon which they are based. Therefore, you must implement the structures and solutions to enable the following transparency outcomes:

  • Visibility into your entire testing program
  • Tracking of all new and historical data
  • Creation of audit trails and reports
  • Corrective and preventive actions based on informed decisions
  • Documentation of every safety and compliance effort
  • Holistic view of your plant’s food safety approach

Everyone is much better equipped to understand and address the company’s food safety challenges when they have the advantage of transparency. Today’s technology and software solutions make this kind of transparency a reality, affording invaluable support like easy access to an organized database of policies, workflows and reporting.

Employee and Equipment Sanitation

It should be no surprise that sanitation plays a critical role in food safety, but you may not be establishing the most effective processes for ensuring that sanitation is carried out in such a way that your customers and brand are protected. A strong sanitation program is based on your ability to:

  • Assign a plant sanitarian, a senior and respected member of the organization who is responsible for defining and implementing the sanitation program.
  • Create a reference of written cleaning procedures highlighting how each piece of equipment should be cleaned and sanitized, including specific cleaners, personal protective equipment and instructions for each step.
  • Establish strict cleaning schedules that outline what gets cleaned, when and by whom, to be executed on a daily, weekly biweekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly basis.
  • Carry out regular self-inspection efforts to check both contact surfaces and the environment, using tools from your environmental monitoring program.
  • Arrange for expert evaluation to determine whether your sanitation counts are in range and pinpoint what you can do to improve sanitation processes.
  • Conduct employee behavior audits to assess employee hygiene, uncover areas of weakness and address them promptly.

Don’t forget that food safety in your operations is also impacted by any hazards your suppliers may be introducing as a result of improper handling and sanitation procedures. If you’re not taking the necessary actions to ensure that your suppliers are preventing these hazards, you can’t be sure that your own product won’t be affected. As a result, it is vital to implement a strong food supplier verification program that protects your consumers, your operations and your brand.

Automated Software and Reporting

With all of these complex factors affecting your food safety efforts, the responsibility of protecting your consumers and brand can become a time-consuming, labor-intensive one -- that’s if you allow it to. The smart solution is to take advantage of modern software and reporting systems that streamline your program and ease the burden on everyone.

Automation enables you to keep every segment of your food safety approach working in an organized, efficient and compliant way by:

  • Collecting, assessing and reporting on critical data
  • Eliminating inefficiencies and duplicated efforts
  • Triggering quick responses for corrective actions
  • Sending automatic alerts and strengthening communication between departments
  • Tightly managing the scheduling of preventative controls and testing
  • Identifying food safety plan patterns
  • Simplifying audit preparation
  • Verifying performance and effectiveness

If you’re truly focused on maintaining the kind of food safety program that protects your customers and your brand, it’s well past time to stop relying on manual spreadsheets and paper logs that cause communication gaps, errors and inefficiencies. These outcomes can put your product at risk of contamination and leave you wide open to the possibility of a recall or food safety issue that diminishes consumer trust in your brand. Automated software and reporting give you the power to prevent these consequences and run a safety-centric operation.

Don’t make the mistake of focusing too narrowly on FSMA rules and not broadly enough on your whole approach to food safety and brand reputation. Begin to readjust your perspective and develop a more holistic program that both satisfies FSMA regulations and prioritizes your consumers and your brand. To get clearer insight on where your strategies in this area may be falling short, take our free quiz.

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