3 Reasons You Need a Food Supplier Verification Program to Avoid Food Recalls
The recall process in the food manufacturing industry is a highly stressful and expensive one, not to mention the irreparable damage that can be done to your brand. The public has become much more informed and discerning when it comes to food safety issues, which means you must be implementing the most careful processes to prevent contamination in your products. A crucial component of these efforts is having an effective food supplier verification program in place.
The activities and practices employed by your food suppliers affect the safety of the products you manufacture, so unless you can afford to deal with the devastating effects of a major food recall, it is essential to implement a food supplier verification program. In the end, it is your responsibility to protect your customers, meet government regulations and preserve your brand. Here are three fundamental reasons why you absolutely require a food supplier verification program in order to prevent recalls.
1. Early Identification of Food Safety Hazards
Food safety in your operations is 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.
With a controlled process to regularly assess your food suppliers, you reap the benefit of greater visibility into potential food safety risks. Visibility is key to identifying issues before it’s too late (when you’ve got a major recall on your hands).
2. Policy and Documentation for Stronger Prevention
Food safety cannot truly be achieved without standardized, documented, shareable and automated processes in place to safeguard against contamination and the onset of foodborne illness. Within your own plant operations, formal processes for risk assessment, testing, sanitation and handling are vital to ensuring contamination-free products.
The same is true when dealing with your suppliers. Only with structured processes in place can you be sure that mistakes are avoided, as well as detect any possible errors before they become large-scale safety problems.
3. Alignment with FSMA Mandates
Defined efforts to ensure food safety among your suppliers is about more than protecting your brand; it’s also a matter of regulatory compliance.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) has rolled out new mandates for supplier verification: “FDA has new tools to ensure that imported foods meet U.S. standards and are safe for our consumers. For example, for the first time, importers must verify that their foreign suppliers have adequate preventive controls in place to ensure safety, and FDA will be able to accredit qualified third party auditors to certify that foreign food facilities are complying with U.S. food safety standards.”
Under FSMA rulings, you are legally bound to the following responsibilities as an importer:
- Determining known or reasonably foreseeable hazards with each food
- Evaluating the risk posed by food, based on the hazard analysis, and the foreign supplier’s performance
- Using that evaluation and the supplier’s performance to approve suppliers and determine appropriate supplier verification activities
- Conducting and documenting supplier verification activities
- Conducting and documenting corrective actions
- Establishing and following written procedures for supplier verification
- Developing, maintaining and following a foreign supplier verification program for each food brought into the United States and the foreign supplier of that food
These regulatory requirements have been developed to protect the public from food safety hazards that could lead to foodborne illness. In effect, by maintaining compliance in these areas, you are also decreasing your own risks for the occurrence of a major food recall that could ruin your reputation and cost your company millions of dollars.
Making Food Supplier Verification a Priority
Once you understand the risks involved with your food supplier relationships, you can see how critical it is to implement a strong food supplier verification program that protects your consumers, your operations and your brand.
Now it’s time to put a plan into action.
Food Safety & Quality Magazine recommends the following to-do items in order to execute a proper supplier verification program and meet FSMA compliance requirements.
- Establish a global catalog of all the suppliers, supplier sites, importers and importer sites you receive ingredients from: Food and beverage companies will need to know where the food or ingredients they are importing are actually produced. This will be a challenge for organizations that simply capture the broker or the parent company of the imported product, as that will not give the level of visibility required when it comes time to do a risk assessment or audit of the actual manufacturing or handling site.
- Organize all of the food safety documents and certifications required from suppliers and importers: One of the easiest way to ensure compliance is to make sure all supplier and importer certifications, as well as the key documents sent with each shipment (certificate of analysis, lab results, safe handling) are easily accessible during an FDA audit. Leveraging a supplier document control solution as part of a quality management system can greatly help here.
- Perform regular supplier and importer risk assessments.
- Schedule auditing of supplier sites and importer sites: Based on the results of the risk assessment, determine if an audit of the importer manufacturing or handling site is required. Be sure to keep record of the audits performed and the status of any corrective actions that were sent to the supplier as result of the audit. This will significantly ease the burden of responding to an FDA audit, as well as reduce the risk of shipments being delayed in customs.
- Remain in continuous communication with suppliers and importers to stay up to date on incident follow-up, corrective action, supplier document requests and specification changes: Ideally, this would be accomplished through a supplier quality management portal, reducing the risk of lost communication often found when interaction with the supplier is typically done via phone and email.
- Implement a system that provides alerts and notifications when a supplier or importer is out of specification or behind on action requests: This system should also ensure that audit programs and any follow-ups are being executed in a timely manner, and if they are not, that all parties involved are notified.
- Leverage data for supplier and importer analysis: Utilize reporting and analytics to monitor supplier performance and to determine if the safety programs put in place are effective.
Don’t let a lack of attention to your food supplier verification program become the downfall of your career or company. Avoid the high costs of recall investigation, remediation, customer management, logistics and brand perception by taking the necessary steps to uphold the highest standards in food safety.
For more indispensable information on identifying and proactively curbing contamination in your plant, download your free checklist: How To Find & Prevent Contamination in Food Processing Plants.