Is your Food Safety Sanitation Provider Unreliable?

Posted by Jim Hayden

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6 Signs Your Food Safety Company Needs to Be Replaced ASAP

Food factory sanitation requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. And more than a few helping hands from outside your building.

Working with a food safety company is easy to start, and hard to get out of when the relationship isn’t working. It requires the QA manager to understand what a food sanitation partner should bring to the table, followed by making noise to the decision makers at corporate. 

While we can’t help you get heard by the powers-that-be, we can share the six common signs it’s time for you to seek a new sanitation partner:

6 Signs of an Unreliable Food Safety Company

A Quality Control Manager can’t be everywhere at once -- that’s why you contracted with a third party in the first place. You may not be getting the full support you need if your food sanitation partner shows these warning signs:

  1. Incomplete training programs
  2. Surface-level internal audits
  3. Behind the curve on new ideas
  4. Poor inventory control
  5. Leaves you in the dark on regulation changes
  6. Other little things (that become big things)

1. Incomplete Training Programs

Some food processors look at training as an expense, and not as an opportunity. Your food sanitation provider should never subscribe to the idea that doing the absolute minimum will help your long-term budget.

When your partner has no input on your training programs, it’s a big red flag. Not only should your partner encourage thorough training, it should also provide that training for everyone.

Virtually every employee has their hands on the food safety process at some point -- whether literally or otherwise. It’s a given that your food plant sanitation company will train production workers and sanitation crews. But is your partner ignoring:

  • The maintenance crew?
  • Senior management?
  • The sales team? 

A poor weld by the maintenance team could have food safety repercussions. The head honchos need training on what to keep an eye out for on the factory floor -- before little issues become big ones (see below). And your sales team can bring peace of mind to customers if it’s knowledgeable about the steps your company takes to guarantee safe products.

If your sanitation/chemicals company isn’t a fixture in your collaborative process, you’ve got a problem. Your partner should:

  • Share creative ideas on how to train each department
  • Jump-start department-to-department collaboration (instead of only speaking to the sanitation manager)
  • Be a reliable, ever-present resource for all plant food safety and hygiene issues

Deliverables

Beyond being a communicator and a culture-changer, your food processing sanitation company should provide several deliverables:

 

  • All sanitation documentation and regulatory approvals in a concise, organized system
  • SSOP (Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures) verifications and revisions
  • Action plans on equipment and preventative maintenance
  • Continual improvements to optimize time, labor, & utility
  • Providing a platform to host training material
  • Taking somewhat of a lead role in training

 

Food safety training programs require repetition and creativity in delivering the message to all members of your team -- from big-picture concepts all the way down to proper use of dryers and fryers. If your provider is doing the bare minimum, so are your food “safety” measures.

2. Internal Audits Only Skim the Surface

For any food plant sanitation solution to be effective, it must address everything from the front door to the back door. Sadly, this isn’t always the case.

Meeting Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) requirements involves developing a strong internal audit program. Any food plant sanitation company you contract with should employ highly trained auditors who bring a thorough plan to you.

From Day 1, your partner should have begun the search for deficiencies in your unique food safety process. Has your food sanitation company done:

  • A walkthrough of all operations?
  • A full audit of past performance?
  • Interviews with and testing of your staff?

Internal food safety audits fail when they obsess over that first bullet, checking for only general Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) and hygiene compliance. Fruitful internal audits are a thorough review of all programs.

Your partner should consistently audit you as part of a yearly program -- proactive, not reactive, is the mantra here. Its recommendations should attack specific GFSI or HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) audit requirements. Food safety sanitation audits should look different from company to company -- is your partner tailoring its internal audit to your specific situation?

To stave off issues with your GFSI or FDA audit, your partner better dig deep into:

  • Cross-contamination
  • Microbial trending
  • Preventative maintenance programs of HVACs & coolers
  • Environmental sanitation programs for drains & floors
  • SSOP verification

 

Verification or Validation?


The Safe Food Alliance refers to this as a “validation” approach vs. a “verification” approach.

“Verifying” an operation usually looks like this:

  1. Quick review of procedures to ensure the auditor understands the employees’ safety responsibilities
  2. Observe employees and equipment for a few minutes
  3. Review the documentation being completed that day
  4. Report findings to management

This bare-bones approach does indeed confirm that your crew is following operations as directed -- for that day, at least.

Actually validating a food plant sanitation and hygiene program leads to a more useful audit. That way, your auditor isn’t just asking, “Are we doing it?”, but also, “Is it working?” A better audit step-by-step might look like this:

  1. Review the procedure before and after the audit, calling out opportunities for improvement
  2. Sample employee work – not just one employee on one day on one shift
  3. Talk to employees, testing their knowledge of the process, why they’re doing it, any safety risks, and how to correct issues
  4. Review a sampling of forms from the past few months
  5. Review customer complaints, past inspection results, and anything else that indicates success or failure of company process
  6. Meet with your management team and outline necessary changes in equipment, people, or training

3. You’re the Last to Hear About New Best Practices

SSOPs and your overall HACCP plan tend to age like milk. Claiming a “continuous improvement” mindset is great, but if it doesn’t result in action, there’s no point. 

Continuous improvement needs sound data and analysis from internal audits and other process checks. If your food factory sanitation supplier doesn’t take a rigorous approach to analyzing and measuring success, you won’t get the data necessary to achieve that success.

Is your food sanitation partner staying dormant while your competitors are enjoying these new innovations and efficiencies in their facilities?

  • Sanitation efficiency improvements (i.e. automated belt sanitation)
  • Cleaning-in-place systems for kettles, vessels, etc.
  • Cleaning-out-of-place or cabinet-washing systems
  • A collaborative plan to assess the merits of new ideas, rather than just trying to push services on you
  • Automation of sanitary/hygienic processes

All of these correlate to time and cost savings.

Take the cleaning-out-of-place and cabinet washing systems, for example. Automating and improving the parts, piping, and hosing sanitation is a huge time saver vs. asking your employees to manually clean them. In general, a sanitation partner should advise any plant willing to invest in automation to also invest in new production equipment to match it. Trying to automate a relic is a pain, and in the long term it’s more efficient to buy new equipment.

4. You’re Left Hanging With Short Supply

Avoid food sanitation chemical companies that don’t check in regularly or closely monitor a facility’s cleaning supply stock. Their neglect can leave you hanging. 

At the very least, you should receive:

  • Scheduled visits (weekly, bimonthly, or monthly)
  • Monitoring systems to track inventory
  • Regular service calls with full titration of all food plant cleaning chemicals and usage rates
  • Regular service calls with surveys of existing equipment
  • Delivery systems based on titration results coupled with inspection of equipment performance
  • Monthly consumption reports with graphs showing trends 

 

Your food safety partner needs to speak up on any out-of-the-ordinary findings. If it records a higher chemical use one month, and doesn’t bother to tell you, then what value is that partner providing?

5. The Partner Isn’t Staying up on New Regulations

Food plant QA Managers are so busy that even the best might miss the release of a new regulation. Your food safety company should have a pulse on every new rule and reg that comes out.

An efficient and reliable food sanitation company independently reviews the ever-changing governmental and GFSI regulations. Then it promptly brings those changes to you on service calls, interpreting their impact on your business.

At least some of your partner’s technical specialists should own certification in at least one of:

  • SQF (Safe Quality Food)
  • BRC (Brand Reputation through Compliance)
  • PCQI (Preventive Controls Qualified Individual)
  • CGMP (Current Good Manufacturing Practices)

6. Other Little Things (That Become Big Things)

There are lots of nagging, little signs you may pick up on when assessing the value of your food safety company. Some of them indicate a larger, more serious problem:

  • High turnover -- If the agency cycles through account reps faster than you can learn their names, it’ll have trouble developing expertise and in-depth knowledge of your processes.
  • Lack of follow-up -- You need follow-up on sanitation delivery or chemistry issues. What you don’t need? Molasses-slow response to critical equipment issues.
  • Poor problem-solving skills -- Are you left sorting out serious situations on your own?
  • No documentation on service calls -- There’s always “that one co-worker” who doesn’t take notes in meetings, then makes mistakes or asks 1,000 questions afterward. Your sanitation partner shouldn’t be “that co-worker.”
  • No empathy -- If your sanitation partner isn’t a responsive and active listener, it may only be interested in pushing its products/services ... and not your success.

The Search for the Perfect Food Safety Company

In finding a new partner, what should a QA Manager look for? The short answer would be, “the opposite of everything above.” The long answer would require another 2,000 words, so for now we’ll boil it down to some key points:

 

  • Consistent and exhaustive service calls
  • Annual reviews by a food safety specialist with benchmarked quarterly updates
  • Sanitation efficiency improvements
  • Ongoing training on regulations, chemical safety, equipment & environmental sanitation, allergen control, air sampling, organic-food considerations, and microbiology
  • Detailed service reports documenting observations and corrective actions
  • Tenure and stability, with testimonials to back them up
  • A narrow focus on the food/beverage market
  • An empathetic and problem-solving mindset

In the end, when investing in plant sanitation for food processing, you expect time and money back in return. We’ve seen food manufacturers save hundreds of thousands of gallons of water each year through improvements in automation. We’ve seen another manufacturer undergo productivity changes that reduced labor time by 20 minutes per day -- which adds up over a year!

In other words, the little things matter.

The QA Manager’s Next Move

Your food safety program needs outside help -- and a no-stone-unturned approach. 

Consider switching your food factory cleaning services if you’re seeing symptoms of a sour relationship. To recap, these include deficiencies in:

  1. Training
  2. Internal auditing
  3. Emerging best practices
  4. Inventory management
  5. Regulation updates
  6. Other intangibles.

Fighting for these changes can be hard, so it’s important to arm yourself with knowledge and proof. To learn more about choosing the right food plant sanitation training and related services, click below:

 

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Topics: food equipment, food industry, #Foodplant, food safety

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