Fresh from the farm - a reality once is now a long drawn past. Call it a lifestyle issue or just a matter of convenience more and more people are today consuming pre-cooked or packaged food. ‘Nothing to fear’ says the FDA with a stamp on every jar of the peanut butter, ensuring the safety of Americans who consume it.Download an Insight
Unfortunately, this is only one side of the story. A lot of food safety reports highlighted in the media lately, refute this statement - a majority of Americans fear the food safety system is broken.
A recently published story in The New York Times highlights the perils of food inspections by calling out the big names who’ve sort of played havoc with peoples’ lives by using contaminated products and ingredients.
Incidentally such reports and reviews are creating potentially crippling vulnerabilities throughout the food supply and distribution chain.
As the Federal and State officials are looking at fundamental issues related to food safety in radically different ways, companies are hiring an army of private auditors to monitor the food plants.
Systematic Auditing: Although audits are not required by the government, food companies are increasingly requiring suppliers to undergo them as a way to ensure safety and minimize liability. And interestingly, it’s despite the recent outbreaks. However, what companies need today is more than just a monitoring agency. They need a systematic and workflow driven audit process across the food chain that not only identifies but also rectifies the problem areas.
Audit Efficiency: For large companies like Costco, Kraft Foods and Darden Restaurants, the needs are different. They use detailed plans to prevent food safety hazards and supplement third-party audits with their own inspections and testing of ingredients and plant surfaces for microbes. Such integrated processes need an efficient audit process and powerful audit tracking techniques. They not only need audit tools and technology to do more audits with same resources, but also need to handle comprehensive audits covering a number of areas in the processing and manufacturing operations.
Auditing the Value Chain: Most private auditors inspect only manufacturing plants, not the suppliers that feed ingredients to those facilities. Interestingly, a lot of times the problem does not occur in the manufacturing rather in the raw materials and ingredients used. Audits should cover the entire value chain- suppliers, environment, facilities, training, documentation, equipment, etc. to be truly effective in preventing adverse events and driving ongoing compliance with quality and regulatory standards.
Audit Scores and Thresholds: When trying to quantify something, you need a benchmark, or a standard with thresholds that indicate what is acceptable and what is not. The audit scoring mechanism should be based on sound logic, judgment and proven algorithms with appropriate conditional checks. For example, if the number or severity of problems exceeds certain threshold, it should reflect in the overall audit score and trigger alerts that cannot go unnoticed.
Closed Loop Audits: Many a times auditors complain of the companies not following their recommendation - like the Nebraska Beef outbreak in 2006, where the company had not carried out the recommendations of auditors who had identified numerous problems at the plant in the preceding months, it sickened at least 17 people. A closed loop audit process should address any audit finds and ensure validation of corrective/preventive actions. Companies should ensure that an audit does not close until the findings in the audit report are fully addressed through corrective and preventive actions (CAPAs), even if that requires validations and re-audits.
Companies know all too well that substandard products and poor service can cost millions of dollars a year in lost sales and leave the door open to more severe consequences. And with food services and products, we are talking about putting peoples’ health and wellbeing in danger - and that certainly call for attention.
Next-generation Audit Management tools built on an integrate platform for managing quality, compliance and risk programs can help companies address these issues and enables companies to protect their brands and build trust with customers on a sustained basis. Most importantly, such initiatives send the right message to employees as well as customer - the companies’ commitment to do the right and doing it diligently.