By Clementino Feitosa Jr, Food Safety Professional
Lack of training and teamwork, unclear or contradictory instructions, and unforeseen issues are some of the most common factors that will adversely affect any food safety plan. Here are 10 recommendations to avoid common mistakes in the food, beverage, and packaging industries.
1. Know your prerequisite standard requirements
Most of the failures related to good manufacturing practices (GMP) in the food, beverage, and packaging industries result from lack of knowledge regarding the prerequisite standards. While there is no guarantee of perfection, regularly reviewing the standards will ensure your team has a firm understanding of not just what do, but why they should do it. If your facility follows the recommendations, your challenges will be manageable and easy to correct.
If you need to get familiarized with the industry standards in regulations, inspections, and certifications, feel free to download the complimentary AIB International Consolidated Standards, available for ten different industries, in a variety of languages.
2. Coordinate monthly self-inspections
Self-inspections are primarily meant to assess whether the facility is maintaining its standards of good manufacturing practices or if corrective measures are needed. However, if this evaluation is not conducted regularly enough to create a culture of food safety, then the program fails, and problems persist.
If you have not yet set your monthly self-inspection calendar, now will be a good time to do so. Above all else, perform your self-inspection even if you must change it from the original date in your schedule.
3. Verify the extent of previous nonconformities
Each inspection identifies opportunities for improvement, whether it's in operational methods, cleaning, maintenance, integrated pest management, or documentation. A common mistake is to fix only what the inspection uncovered and not check if the same problem is occurring elsewhere in the facility. Failure to implement a comprehensive solution plan will lead to recurrent and even larger problems.
4. Correction of only the serious and unsatisfactory findings
As part of an audit process, it is very common to observe that findings categorized as needs improvement and observations are normally ignored under the excuse of prioritizing the major or serious findings. By definition, a needs improvement recommendation means that findings have the potential to become more serious and even lead to food contamination or program failure.
Your team should develop a plan to deal with all audits finding. Do not ignore those deemed less critical, as they can develop into major issues if unattended.
5. Focus on the root cause
The practice of ignoring the root cause of nonconformities during self-inspections is very risky. Resolving the problem but not its underlying cause will only lead to more serious issues in the mid- and long-term. Consider this: what is the point of fixing a crack in the floor without ensuring that the preventive building maintenance program is functioning or checking if the floor is most appropriate for the operation at which it is installed?
6. Ensure your leadership team is committed to your food safety program
A food safety program cannot survive without the support of the leadership team. Apart from providing the necessary resources, the leadership team is also responsible for setting an example and making sure everyone follows the rules.
If your food safety program has yet to be approved, make sure to explain the potential financial and reputational consequences if it is not approved and implemented soon, so the management team feels more compelled to act.
7. Share the responsibility
A common misconception is believing that the quality team is solely responsible for quality issues. You should share common activities such as self-inspections and cleaning checkout processes with the entire multidisciplinary team. Otherwise, you risk overwhelming a team with limited resources and preventing them from focusing on more critical quality issues.
8. Ensure the quality team has the resources it needs
A quality control level can only be achieved if resources are available. It is not uncommon for action plans developed after a self-inspection to be put on hold due to a lack of resources. Often companies will hesitate to commit to large investments at once. However, postponing critical investments can lead to costly food safety disasters.
Equipment such as metal detectors, X-rays, automatic doors, and surfaces with sanitary designs are expensive, but can be necessary to ensure that the food produced is safe.
Audits are very stressful, and the tension runs high. However, the real aim of an audit is to help ensure you maintain food safety standards by identifying areas that require attention. An attempt to hide issues or justify findings in any way is unethical, and only slows down the corrective action process.
10. Put the consumer first
No matter what role someone plays in the food, beverage, or packaging process, the ultimate objective of having a food safety plan in place, going through inspections and audits, and implementing all the check points along the way is to protect consumers. Regardless of your role in the food manufacturing process, you are responsible for making sure your product is safe for consumers.
By simply following these recommendations, food, beverage, and packaging companies can avoid some of the most common mistakes that will negatively impact the outcome of your audit.
Other articles that might be relevant: The Top Five Reasons Manufacturers Fail Audit and Five Tips to Prepare for Your Food Safety Inspection.
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