May 30, 2019

Taking Food Safety Further with an FSMS

Written by Garret Weigel | Food Safety, HACCP

The FDA report makes a compelling argument that food service has plenty to do to ensure the safety and quality of food products along the supply chain. So, what’s the best way to go about it?

 

First, take a hard look at your current food safety plan in place. Do you have one? If not, there’s no time better than now to get started. Does the plan meet all of the FDA and USDA regulations? If not, bring it up to code. There’s no excuse for any food company to take a risk with public health by not implementing a compliant food safety plan.

 

Second, once that work is accomplished, ask yourself: where can we go from here? That is, how can your company move beyond compliance into the realm of excellence? Based on Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) recommendations, the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI) has already established a code for retail establishments and is developing a code for food service with the participation of many stakeholders, including restaurants, hotel chains, airlines, and retail organizations. Following those guidelines will establish even higher benchmarks.

 

Watch our webinar to learn about a newly released study on foodborne illness  conducted by the FDA, and how food safety management systems are key to keeping  customers safe.

 

Additionally, set goals for your new safety standards. Create a common language across all divisions to correct the current patchwork approach caused by different national, state, local and tribal rules. Add credibility with audits accredited by GFSI. And finally, fill in the gaps overlooked by most government regulations, such as document control, crisis planning, traceability, and maintenance.

 

Document Control

The FDA report specifies that accurate, up-to-date, and easily retrievable records is imperative for a highly developed FSMS. Document control can prevent:

  • Use of the wrong form or checklist, recipe, or menu
  • Incorrect training, regulatory issues, or food safety errors
  • Wasted time looking for paper documentation

 

Crisis Planning

Planning ahead reduces the likelihood of a crisis and helps respond to one as quickly, efficiently, and painlessly as possible. Proactive crisis planning reduces the risk of:

  • Food recalls announced by vendors
  • Employee or customer illnesses
  • Loss of utilities

 

Traceability

Recalls are a fact of life in the food industry and not restricted to companies with poor food safety controls. Sometimes they occur because of an error, sometimes a genuine food safety risk, and sometimes because a company cannot prove that a product is safe.

 

Food safety effectiveness checks that result in poor outcomes can lead to regulatory enforcement actions. For instance, if one of your suppliers has initiated a recall, and you are a food service or retail organization, that supplier’s food will be in your inventory. If you’re still selling that food during a recall, that means either the supplier did a poor job of notifying you or you did a poor job of removing that food from sale or service – and that’s illegal.

 

Traceability using documentation is important to prove you are doing the right thing when the safety of any food in your supply chain is in question.

 

Maintenance

Like crisis planning, maintenance should be proactive before rather than reactive after a breakdown occurs. Planned maintenance:

  • Prevents unforeseen repairs
  • Increases the life of equipment
  • Reduces food safety risk because maintained equipment is more likely to be cleaned
  • Improves time management so you don’t have to deal with downtime for repairs or devising work-arounds until the problem is fixed

 

Practical Implementation of an FSMS

At this point you may be worried that an FSMS has an awful a lot of components that sound intimidating. But based on studies, we know they work. The key is practical implementation of the right tools. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Choose the right FSMS (e.g., whether GMP, HACCP, SQF) based on the specific needs and risks of your own organization.
  • Don’t promise more than is possible. For example, resist expectations that employees will manually check temperatures every 30 minutes if you know they can’t. Instead, change the program to include fewer temperature checks, or even better, implement an automated system.
  • Create forms and checklists that result in good records. For instance, don’t blame an employee who forgets to record whether temperatures were measured in Fahrenheit or Celsius if the form does not use a clearly marked default standard. Mistakes like this are common with manual systems.
  • Gain visibility into your operations. When you actually write down your procedures, you often learn about how and why certain behaviors do or don’t happen across your operation. Asking your employees will help you understand how to improve things or provide information on what things need to be improved.
  • Don’t document more than necessary. There’s no need to waste precious time with data that you will never use.
  • On the other hand, “if it’s not recorded, it cannot be tracked.” That’s a supply-chain twist on the old maxim, “if it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen.” Or perhaps an even better way to look at is: “the way you wrote it down is the way it did happen.” If your records aren't accurate and thorough, then it will appear that your FSMS is not accurate and thorough – even if it is in every other way but in documentation.
  • Employ automated, digital technologies. They provide essential benefits you can’t get with manual pen-and-paper solutions:
    • Seamless Monitoring: Central visibility, reporting, and documentation
    • Mitigated Risk: Real-time risk stratification of sites
    • Improved Productivity: Automated data gathering
    • Optimized Equipment: Proactive maintenance & replacement

 

FSMS: The Future of Food Service

The FDA report concludes that implementing a well-developed FSMS is the #1 factor statistically correlated to better food safety. The presence of an FSMS cut the average number of out of compliance items by half, providing a clear strategy to preventing foodborne illness.

 

These systems are already common in the manufacturing environment. The next step is for food service and retail establishments to follow suit, both to increase consumer trust and demonstrate that they can continuously and consistently maintain food safety.

 

The benefits of investing in an FSMS far exceed any costs to implement one. These include:

  • Preventing foodborne illness and related recalls
  • Meeting and exceeding regulatory compliance
  • Creating consumer trust through credibility
  • Improving product quality through consistency
  • Reducing product loss and optimizing inventory control
  • Increasing employee understanding and involvement in food safety
  • Managing compliance with document and data control that help you prove upon request that you are doing the right thing

 

The bottom line: an FSMS will undoubtedly save you time and money in the long-term. An FSMS not only helps ensure safety compliance, but also improves the quality of your product, and therefore increases customer confidence and satisfaction, and ultimately profits.

 

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Topics: Food Safety HACCP

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