Preventing the Unthinkable: Food Safety Certification Measures that Educate, Prepare, and Check Risk
Because packaging is such an integral part of the perishables supply chain, Tosca holds its food safety standards to the highest degree, proactively adopting ISO/TS 22002-4 and ISO 22000 standards to ensure food travels safely throughout the supply chain. These standards involve 564 pages of process documents that outline the requirements for ensuring food safety. All of Tosca’s 19 North American wash sites are audited to the requirements each year by their certifying body. Internal audits are also conducted each year to ensure compliance and drive improvement.
Tosca sat down with Judy Sullivan, an independent food safety certification consultant, to discuss the benefits and outcomes that result from implementing a stricter food safety system and how to balance effectiveness and education in order to create a more food-safe system and drive improvement.
Judy has over twenty-five years of consulting experience in certifications and in the past thirteen years, her focus has been on food safety certifications. She has worked with clients on ISO-9001, ISO-13485, ISO-14000, AIB, SQF, BRC, FSSC-22000 and Integrated Management Systems with a 100% success rate. She helps manufacturers create food safety systems that work for their business and their employees. Judy runs her own independent consulting firm, JSQ Consulting, which specializes in Management System Certifications.
Q: Many business operations are unlikely to produce health and safety risks. Why should they pursue food safety or quality certification anyway?
JS: When the FDA came out with the Food Safety Modernization Act, the preamble wording to the act talked about how the root cause of a recall is often that people didn’t know that certain things they were doing could cause a problem or a food safety issue. Certification helps to correct errors and catch issues before they occur.
Many companies are also able to use the certification data to improve their processes. The broken window approach, for example, suggests that the worst outcome is often a result of smaller issues along the way, so an effective approach to prevent the worst-case scenario is to correctly deal with minor issue as they come up. This mentality can be used by food safety professionals to affect worker and management behavior. By addressing recognized low risk issues, the organization will build the system, tools and culture it needs to prevent high risk quality or food safety issues.
Q: What benefits can clients realize when pursuing and maintaining certification?
JS: Over the course of my career, I have found that the key to this food safety path is to ensure that the communication and the culture promote an understanding of what can be a food safety issue. The training, the documentation, and the standard process that comes from certification makes sure that you’ve got that understanding in place and you are not going to be surprised at something that could result in a food safety issue.
It is also important to have an active training-intensive team that understands enough about food safety to know what can go wrong and who work every day to prevent it. Without this mentality, issues can be overlooked.
Q: Can food safety certification bring benefits to other areas of the business?
JS: Through many years of system implementation, I have worked with multiple types of companies with varying cultures. Many companies start the process with little or no appreciation for process standardization. However, as they move through implementation, they begin to make effective changes and it often positively influences overall outlook.
Many years ago, I worked with a company to develop a contract review process. They saw it as just a requirement that needed to be satisfied. The process was developed and implemented with limited enthusiasm. A few years later, while auditing this organization, I observed that the attitude was completely changed. They were proud of the process and the errors it had helped to avoid. Change like this takes time, but it is worth it.
Q: For those who were hesitant to implement certification of any type, did the process change their mind?
JS: When food safety certification is approached as a value-added process and care is taken to limit unnecessary “paperwork”, the organizational buy-in grows throughout the project. Years after initial certification, clients have expressed to me how certification continues to help their business and improve their processes.
Q: What benefits could a company have in choosing to certify to stricter measures?
JS: I’ve found that clients are incredibly pleased with their decision to go with ISO 22000 since it is based strongly on risk and less on prescriptive elements. It works especially well for companies like Tosca that have more evolving structures, allowing their processes to fit well as customer expectations evolve.
The program is unique in that it works well for a company when they are very small as well as when they are a multi-site corporation.
Q: What are some of the biggest obstacles in implementing certification?
JS: In order to become certified, companies need to evaluate risks at both the organizational level and the operational level. As a result, the process requires an understanding of the big picture as well as clarity on the more granular operational details. I’ve found that one of the most critical measures a company can take in this process is to put together a cross functional team that can handle the business strategy while still appreciating important details such as checking documents for accuracy and ensuring communication is smooth.
Q: How can customers know that certification is legitimate and unbiased?
JS: A robust internal audit process is essential to maintaining a legitimate and unbiased Food Safety Management System. Whether the audits are done by employees or an outside resource, they must focus on compliance, efficiency, effectiveness and improvement. This way customers can always be assured that when certifications are attained throughout the years, that certification is legitimate.
Tosca’s focus on food safety and the culture we have built around it has done unmeasurable good for our company and its success. Not only do the programs we have chosen ensure food safe containers for suppliers, retailers, and their products, but they have enabled us to limit risk, strengthen internal reliability, and generate a culture determined to keep people safe. As we continue to grow, our food safety measures continue to be a critical part of our business, and we continue to maintain food safety as a key priority.
Tosca (www.toscaltd.com) is a leading provider of reusable packaging and supply chain solutions across a diverse range of markets including eggs, case-ready meat, poultry, produce, seafood, and cheese. Our proven RPC system is a smarter way to move fresh product safely from source to shelf, substantially reducing shrink and labor cost, maintaining product quality, and optimizing overall supply chain efficiency for retailers, growers, and suppliers. Tosca recently acquired Polymer Logistics, expanding its geographic reach, increasing its product portfolio and enhancing its customer offering.