Risk Management in the Food Industry: Who’s Really in Charge?
All along the food chain -- from producers and processors to retailers and consumers -- safety risks exist. Food is susceptible to contamination at many points in its journey. For food processing plants, this means it is necessary to establish and maintain strict, proactive practices for safe food production and handling. But, ultimately, who’s in charge of this effort? Where does responsibility for food safety risk management reside?
It’s critical to understand who’s really accountable in terms of managing your plant’s food safety risk. Is it one person or many? Is it a single department or the entire company? In this article, you’ll uncover the answers to these questions and identify opportunities to strengthen risk management within your organization and at your facility.
Identifying the Responsible Parties
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that roughly 48 million people suffer from a foodborne illness annually, including 128,000 who are hospitalized and 3,000 who die. Each year, one in six Americans gets sick by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. These realities are the reason why food safety laws exist, and companies in the food processing business must be vigilant in their compliance.
To minimize the risks that come with manufacturing foods, it is essential to have effective strategies and processes in place. In fact, managing food safety risk in your plant should be a shared responsibility. Here’s a breakdown of how each operational level is involved.
This category comprises the plant manager, the corporate quality and food safety group and the corporate supply chain. These individuals may be the ultimate decision-makers and leaders in terms of risk management, but that doesn’t mean the effort is limited to them alone. Conversely they are sometimes far removed from the day-to-day activities. They must not be the only parties concerned about food safety risks. The food safety policies they set must be implemented all the way through the various plant departments and permeate every level of the organization.
These staff members are executing the entire workflow of food processing, handling and distribution. They are critical for the plant’s and organization’s food safety culture because they are responsible for producing safe and nutritious food every day. Therefore, they must be accountable for adhering to procedures and should share in the responsibility of meeting high food safety standards.
The maintenance crew is responsible for keeping the plant sanitary whether it’s during the course or normal operation or within the scope of a corrective action. They must adhere to strict procedures that detail how each piece of equipment should be cleaned and sanitized. The maintenance and sanitation of the plant as a whole is a pivotal contributor to overall food safety and risk management.
QA personnel own the task of taking environmental (and product)l samples before and during production. This makes them key contributors to the risk management plan. They must be diligent about taking proper notes and pictures, documenting any concerns that may arise and communicating sample collection to production. This team is a critical element of managing risk!
The laboratory -- whether in-house or external -- is tasked with handling the testing of samples, which means this group is responsible for generating and communicating accurate results. The challenge in pathogen control is to quickly and effectively processing samples, which laboratory staff must make every effort to achieve.
When a positive test result for contamination occurs, it’s up to the crisis management team to execute a proper plan. They must implement steps to rapidly identify and remove any recalled product from the marketplace in order to ensure the health of the public, as well as set immediate actions in motion at the plant level to locate the source of the contamination and remediate the problem.
Empowering All Staff Levels with Food Safety Software
Each of the plant departments and staff levels outlined above should be empowered to gain a strong understanding of food safety and contribute to the overall effort of risk management. To unite the various parties in this objective, it is a smart idea to utilize effective control software that facilitates the following food safety components.
Employees are more inclined to care about and engage in addressing the plant’s food safety challenges if they are equipped with the proper information as well as included in the development of the resolution. Without this kind of engagement, you may experience diminished dedication. That’s why visibility around a well-structured risk management plan is a major opportunity to improve overall success. Today, you have the benefit of implementing innovative food safety software that makes true visibility a reality. With easy access to an organized database of policies, workflows and reporting, visibility becomes an integral part of the food safety culture.
In order to resolve the food safety challenges that arise in a processing plant, there must be a seamless exchange of information between departments. When it comes to addressing contamination risks, a lack of communication often results in serious ramifications for the business. Interdepartmental communication should be a vital component of your risk management plan. Effective food safety software makes this possible through automatic alerts and notifications, facilitated documentation and more.
New FSMA rules require food processing companies to establish a food safety plan that meets certain requirements. Environmental management software helps you meet these compliance regulations with features like scheduling, monitoring, analyzing and reporting. The ideal software enables you to manage your entire testing program and corrective actions, complete with audit trails so you are in a position to provide the necessary data required in a food safety audit or certification.
With the right software, you’re apt to see some of these immediate benefits at all levels of the organization:
- Analysis of historical data for trending and predictive testing of control points
- Increased productivity by automating repetitive, manual processes like testing schedule setup
- Elimination of duplicate systems and documentation
- Integration of data with mission-critical systems and third-party labs
- Standardized practices and optimization across all plants
- Email alerts on reports, actions and KPIs
Ultimately, your plant’s food safety risk management is a combined effort -- one that requires you to rely on the proper software to keep all parties well informed, tightly integrated and on the same page. No company wants to suffer from the crisis and cost of contamination, so it’s paramount to strengthen all of the risk management efforts at your facility.
Start now by learning how to Be Proactive in Solving Corrective Action Challenges in Your EMP.