Copyright © Global Coalition for Sustained Excellence in Food & Health Protection, 2011 and ALL subsequent years: Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s authors and/or owners is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Global Coalition for Sustained Excellence in Food & Health Protection with appropriate and specific reference and/or link to the original content.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Taming the Food Safety and Quality Systems Management Monster


It has been reported that, for some operations, the top management team is not as committed as it should be to food safety and quality matters. Whether or not this is the case in your food business, it is possible for you to gain additional support from the top. It is anticipated that your top management team members already know the merits of ensuring food safety and quality, and that this is vital to the survival of the business. What they may not be fully aware of is the connection between product safety, quality and profitability. They may also not be aware of how busy things can get at the front lines of food safety and quality assurance. This article may be helpful in presenting your case.

If you are like many managers of food safety and quality systems, you are almost running crazy trying to keep up with everything. You have every-day fires to put out. You have so much to do and you perpetually wish for each day to be extended beyond 24 hours. You do not mind working long hours to keep up. You have a maze of things to oversee with confusion injected from external sources. For example, you have to deal with supplier product failures, unrealistic customer demands, improperly communicated or non-communicated regulatory requirements, production quality control issues, incident corrections and tracking, internal and external audit non-conformances, employees who have not grasped the training received or are simply unwilling to co-operate. The list goes on. These areas of your oversight form a complex maze through which you have to find your way each day.

Some segments of this maze that can entrap even the smartest and most diligent manager are described below. In fact, it appears that the smarter you are and the more diligent you are the more complex the maze that develops to challenge your professional survival instincts.

The SSQA concept and strategy provide an effective and efficient escape.

Taking on the Task Single-Handed - Not Recommended:
Imagine a soccer game where one player attempts to take on the entire opposing team, what is the likely outcome? 


Disclaimer: The examples below are only a sampling. There are likely to be more things that keep you sufficiently busy as a food safety and quality system manager. You cannot do it all by yourself.

Supplier Approval Challenges

You have to be on top of managing the input materials through your supply chain management. This is not a small feat. You start with managing the so-called supplier approval process. The purchasing department helps but you must provide the technical guidance. You have to draft the questionnaire that must be sent to all suppliers and, because you have many suppliers, you end up with a generic questionnaire with many suppliers remaining reluctant to complete and return it to you.


In essence, you cannot blame them too much. If you are also a supplier, you will find that many customers send you their generic questionnaires to fill out. Depending on the number of your customers and whether or not there is a required recurring frequency of returning these questionnaires, you literarily need a 48-hour day just to promptly complete and dispatch all of the unique questionnaires. After that is done, you still need to deal with specification approvals, specification changes, incoming product monitoring for consistency of supplied quality. Hopefully you have a team of personnel who are as diligent as you, and are sufficiently knowledgeable otherwise you have to train them. First, top management must agree to hire the needed personnel to assist you.

Employee Training Demands

As vital as the proper training of employees is, this activity has its chronicled challenges. Many people simply assume that, after you have trained your personnel, all goes well with the performance of their duties. This is not often the case. As far as ensuring product safety and quality goes, you have to constantly come up with clever ways to monitor employees and ensure their co-operation. We know that even trained people sometimes forget things. In some operations, frequent employee turn-over rate poses its challenges of losing trained personnel and having to train new ones within short spaces of time. There are also many other human factors with which to deal when it comes to the training and compliance to training by employees. This is particularly so with food safety and quality assurance practices. There are some incorrigible whole departments. I am not saying your maintenance department is one of these. It could be the night sanitation crew or the off-shift production department. Perhaps there is no such issue with any department in your case.

Internal and External Quality Incident Correction and Tracking

You should count yourself fortunate if your operation systems, conditions and people are always predictable. If this is not the case, you will find that many unpredictable things happen through the course of each day. You can expect to be called upon to deal with occurring and sometimes recurring incidents. These all have to be investigated, corrected, root-cause-analyzed. You will, in some instances, need to direct or be directly involved in implementing permanent solutions and preventive actions.

Customer Satisfaction Rigors

The customer is supposedly always right but not all the time. You need to engage in educating them about your products. This is typically done through specifications and product/label information. You have to be on top of all of these to keep them valid, current, correct and relevant. Labels must have the correct information and instructions.

Customers also have their sets of rules and demands that you must understand and meet. In many cases, these rules and demands change frequently and some customers may not even understand some of their own rules and you may need to educate them on such rules. For all customers, you must be prepared to go with the flow of how they see things in order to keep them happy.

Internal and External Audit Expectations

Every good manager wants to check and ensure that all systems are working as they should. You probably have implemented internal audits to do this. It is even possible, though not likely, that you are also insisting on having external audits to assess the effectiveness of your systems. It is more likely that your customers demand third party audits. This may be because they do not trust your integrity or adequate knowledge to do a good job on your own. Please forgive me if this is an incorrect suspicion in your case. The commonly accepted argument is that separate sets of eyes from outside will see things that may not be seen internally. I, as an auditor, I personally wish that your internal audits will see more things and correct them before I get there. This makes my job easier.

Another argument is that external third party audits remove biases from the assessment process. There are some counter-arguments against this notion because the auditing companies who pay the auditors are often paid by the audited companies. Are you convinced that conflict of interest and personal biases are completely removed from the auditing system? That is a question for another time. Auditors and auditing companies are always battling to ensure that conflict of interest and personal biases do not creep into the process. For now, let’s just settle for the promoted merits of third party audits. They are good for you everyone says.

As a food safety and quality system manager, you have to coordinate all of the audits. For some managers, coordinating audits through the year is a full time job. Some global auditing schemes such as the GFSI are intended to minimize the proliferation of audits. The manager is often involved in selecting the preferred scheme or "standard" if this is not dictated by the customers. The audit scheme selection itself has been known to pose its challenges. Some managers find it confusing as to which scheme best serves the need of the operation. Going with customers’ recommendations in such instances is often the path of least resistance and less headache. Some managers have indicated that the headache comes afterwards in preparing for, and following up with audit demands. If this is also your experience, you have probably also heard that it is worth it in the end. Whether or not you believe this to be true, you are left to decide that for yourself.

Regulatory Compliance

Written regulatory guidelines are available for operations that are heavily regulated and inspected by government agencies such as the meat, fish, dairy and produce industries. This is not the case for all operations. I have been to facilities who do not even know if they fall under any regulations. They say things like: “We will never have regulatory inspections. Therefore we do not need to establish any regulatory inspection procedures.” What this often translates to is an attitude of indifference towards searching out and complying with applicable regulations. The astute manager does not show such indifference. He or she searches for and ensures compliance with all applicable regulations. This is not an easy task for operations that are not ordinarily inspected by regulatory agencies. Even for those that are inspected and may have ready access to applicable regulations, the regulations are often not as straightforward to understand as one might expect. In order to appreciate what the mangers go through with these regulations, you only need to read and try to make sense of them. You may test this if you like. Copies of the new US Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the Canadian Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA [Bill-S-11]) are available on the internet.



Unavoidable but Hated Paperwork and Document Management

Everything that is done as part of the food safety and quality system management needs to be documented. As we say in the auditing world, if it is not written down, it is not done. The document management technocrat may be able to have a well streamlined and manageable documentation system. In many cases, the avalanche of documents that must be managed can be overwhelming. It is not uncommon for some operations to have well over 100 documented procedures, work instructions and the like to manage. There are also different categories of documents to manage. Many operations have documents that fall into these categories: certificates, contracts, correspondence documents, diagrams, information documents, legal documents, standards, regulatory requirements, manuals, policies, procedures, records, reference materials, reports, specifications, technical papers, warranties, work instructions, et cetera. These all have to be managed for validity, accessibility, version control, confidentiality, protection against theft, fire or water damage, accidental erasure prevention, etc.


Deep Trench for System Managers but Slip-up Gold Mine for Scheme Auditors:

Many managers literally find themselves drowning in the onslaught of records from the previous day or week to sign (the so-called verification of records). While this may appear to be a worthwhile activity, according to current schemes, all that is typically done (or can be done due to lack of time) is to run through all of the pages of records and sign at the right spots instead of thoroughly examining each record and doing a proper verification of program/system effectiveness. With the stage as currently set by the different schemes, managers who do not slip up are rare. Overburdened with volumes of paper work that take up much of their time, system managers often find themselves in a deep trench out of which they seem unable to climb. The paperwork also take them away from dealing with real issues on the production floor. At the same time, due to the sheer volume of paperwork, they are bound to slip up somewhere. First they slip up with the paperwork. Then, with much of their attention drawn to catching up with the paperwork, they also slip up in the effectiveness of established programs. The scheme auditors are left with a "gold mine" of slip ups to use as proof of why the schemes are needed.

You have just read one side of the story. What if there is a systems management model that radically reduces the complexity of this maze? What if this monster can in fact be tamed? This is the other side of the story. There is a model. It is the SSQA model. By virtue of its focus on complexity reduction alone, this model maximizes the usefulness and effectiveness of your current programs. Why stay on a food safety management tightrope and rely on compliance alone for your balance and safety? Take the SSQA bridge! You will more comfortably attain compliance plus more. You or your food business could look to SSQA for accomplishing more hours work in your regular day. With SSQA you can have the extra dollar saved, the extra help, the extra insight, the additional support in facing daily challenges and more. 

SSQA serves as a Rescue or Recovery Mission for Food Operations  

Any operation of any size can Adopt the SSQA Concept 




No comments:

Post a Comment