December 01, 2009
Some bakery and snack food manufacturers seem to have individuals or teams inspecting their operations nearly every week. Inspections require the time of one or more employees, and multiple audits and inspections during the year could easily cost a company between $25,000 and $50,000 a year in time and lost production. However, plants can minimize the cost and time for audits and inspections.
Who is coming into the plant? Nowadays, facilities may be inspected by big-box customers or a company for which the processor co-packs products. Also, there are regularly scheduled AIB International visits for sanitation/food safety audits, and federal officials with the US Department of Agricultural inspect facilities using meat and cheese and the Department of Defense audits plants with military contracts. Federal, state or local authorities also may perform food safety, worker safety, environmental and homeland security compliance checks, and state and country health officials will regularly examine plant cafeterias. Well, I could go on, but I believe I have made my point.
MAINTAINING GMPs. Auditors inspect to a set of standards. Many companies have evaluated the goals they are expected to meet and have concluded that 90 to 95% of the standards overlap. Some of the more well-known standards in the industry include AIB International Food Safety, the Global Food Safety Initiative, American National Standards Institute, NSF International, International Standards Organization 2203, Safe Quality Food and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points.
Additionally, several bills such as the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 (HR 2749) have been introduced in Congress, and in all likelihood, at least one of the bills will become law and give FDA expanded authority to inspect plants and their records. Also, a lot of hard work is being done to reach international agreement on standards, but I believe these efforts will not be successful for many years.
Inspectors and auditors are not always well trained, but as a rule, they are sincere about their responsibility to protect public health and the environment. Each auditor will interpret the standards based on education, experience and perhaps, what happened the night before an inspection. From the plant’s perspective, a significant percentage of food safety failures, possibly as high as 95%, are not the critical control points but the failure to maintain GMPs. The terms inspectors and auditors are used interchangeably in this article, but oftentimes, there is a difference. Inspections are generally triggered by a complaint and focus on GMPs, while audits are more formally scheduled events that are based on more specific prescribed standards. However, the potential impact on plants is the same for both audits and inspections.
SYSTEMS APPROACH. The biggest challenge to successfully meeting the standards of any inspection is the behavior of the individuals on the production floor. Companies often have systems in place to help make operation’s employees successful such as implementing Lean with the objectives of eliminating waste and improving quality by generating a better workflow. Tools for Lean include 5S, which aims to organize the workplace — a place for everything and everything in its place — so that one shift can smoothly follow another. Incremental implementation of any change in operations will better develop employee ownership and increase the opportunity for success.
The next level up from the individual or team is the department. The need for engineering, production and sanitation to work together seamlessly across departments and through shifts is critical in developing company systems. Individuals should understand their roles in the workflow processes for quality and safety, and the company needs computer systems that are not redundant, protect confidential business information and meet the requests of inspectors. The current media emphasis on the policies of corporate responsibility and sustainability are also met by efficient operations. Management is responsible for coordinating organization and budget structures
so that departments and individuals can work efficiently.
It doesn’t matter what the sign says, it is the individuals on the floor who decide whether or not to wash their hands or to tell someone about a leak in the roof or a peculiar odor. Most people want to do a good job. Management needs to make it as easy as possible for them to do a good job and to recognize the success of individuals and effective teams. The inspection/audit process will be easier to deal with when the company has articulated GMPs and has implemented those practices through individual employee ownership. Money will be spent, so think about the inspection/audit perspective and spend smartly to improve quality and to save resources. .
This article can also be found in the digital edition of Baking & Snack, December 1, 2009, starting on Page 12. Click here to search that archive.