Striving for Food Safety Perfection
Oct. 1, 2011
by Joe Stout
Food safety professionals have to make proper scientific decisions involving foods safety, and sometimes they need to make those assessments quickly. Those decisions could be about critical food safety prerequisites and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) programs, or they might be important executional decisions regarding procedures. They may even be related to taking shortcuts inconsistent with a company’s quality and food safety plans. These decisions could be as simple as not washing your hands when prescribed or wearing inappropriate clothing for a job assignment.
Violation of sound science principles or poor execution of assigned tasks or sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOPs) potentially could cause a food safety risk. Take a look at the risk of not being 100% perfect by reviewing the “Decreasing Portions at Risk” chart below.
Now, what is your standard of acceptance: 99% or 99.99999999%? I suspect if one of your family members received an at-risk portion, you would have wished for perfection — 99.99999999 with only 0.2 of a portion at risk.
If the goal is perfection with the endpoint of 100% safe food, it is a long path with many turns. Companies must navigate this path correctly or, better yet, perfectly. Perfection starts on the farm and ends on someone’s plate at home or in a restaurant.
This route may take weeks or months while ingredients are transported around the world and processed into baked foods that are then stored at various locations. These all could be risk points along the journey. Think of it as driving from my hometown Chicago, IL, to San Diego, CA. The 2,053-miles journey takes 29.5 hours, if you follow the directions exactly.
To navigate this trip perfectly, I will need to make 21 correct turns. I also must drive safely and follow the posted speed limits. Following the traffic laws and taking the correct turns are prerequisites for a safe,
Likewise, with ingredients and food processing, all directions must be navigated and documented exactly, using the correct times and methods to manufacture products within specifications. Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), HACCP, process instructions and many other prerequisite programs require perfect execution and proper documentation so that products can be deemed completely safe.
While food can be made unsafe in many ways, the overwhelming food safety risk appears to be from pathogens. Unfortunately, too many pathogen recalls have occurred, causing processors to summon their products from store shelves and out of pantries across the US. In some cases, processors discover these risks and, in others, by regulators. Either way, there are too many incidents.
ELIMINATING THE ENEMY.
“Pathogens are enemies that are invisible, silent and deadly to people, companies and jobs.”
This statement stresses the importance of pathogen elimination in the processing plant environment. When elimination is not achieved, products could be contaminated, consumers could fall ill and die, plants could close, and people could lose their jobs. There is no good news here, so the goal must be elimination.
Within the next year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), through its Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), will enact new requirements to ensure safe food. With FSMA comes a new approach to prevention, HACCP, FDA recall authority and record access, all of which are designed to reduce or eliminate food safety hazards.
However, most of FSMA is still abstract and amorphous to the employees who do the work on the plant floor where food safety starts and succeeds or fails. In most US facilities, operational procedures and SSOPs are well laid out and documented when they are written. However, normal practices and habits of managers, supervisors and employees during production or sanitation will not easily change with the stroke of a pen. It takes time, training and, in some cases, a culture change.
Engaging and empowering employees to create and live in a culture of quality and food safety is a continuing challenge and an avenue to success. This cannot be mandated by law and is not covered under FSMA, but it is fundamental to food safety success for the industry.
Our goal — regardless of FSMA, FSIS, SQF, BRC, FDA or CFIA — should be the same: A clean plant in which to produce safe food.
A PASSION FOR SANITATION.
When I started in the food industry many years ago, I recall hearing this maxim issued by the National Sanitation Foundation: “Sanitation is a way of life. It is the quality of living that is expressed in the clean home, the clean farm, the clean business and industry, the clean neighborhood, the clean community.
“Being a way of life, it must come from within the people; it is nourished by knowledge and grows as an obligation and an ideal in human relations.”
And I believe this adage has been a stimulus for continuous improvement in sanitation.
If we build on this way of life and take it one step further, other key themes that describe the passion and the results of living a food safety culture would include:
• Unimpeachable food safety and product integrity
• Continuous improvement for people, processes and facilities
• Motivated, skilled, passionate and always-food-safe employees
• Employees advocating and maintaining safe working enviroments
• Maximized personal ownership and empowerment
• Flexibility in working methods to foster innovation and ownership
• Companies with visionary leadership, facilities and equipment that employees can be proud of
• Environmentally friendly
• All employees contributing to the attainment and maintenance of the culture.
Whether focusing on personal safety or food safety, a culture of continuous improvement offers many benefits to employees and the company. If a plant is dedicated to food safety, the operation is cleaner and more productive than a facility without this kind of culture. It has better housekeeping, happier employees and a safer environment. This type of atmosphere spurs innovation. From GMPs and process controls to recordkeeping and employee engagement, it all comes together.
A good way to start the passion is to have employees form the culture. In a recent meeting where the company’s goal was to achieve sustainable sanitation, volunteers were asked to put together a mission statement. The results were outstanding. This is what (with minor edits) they developed and proudly delivered:
“To deliver safe quality food with confidence to serve to our families, through sustaining plants always inspection-ready, in a culture of personal engagement, with knowledge, accountability and on target priorities, strategies and clear consistent processes as the gold standard through sustainable sanitation.
“Be proud of your work and always ready.”
The words and themes that make this work well are confidence, sustainability, knowledge, accountability, strategy and pride. These are key points needed to initiate and live in a food safety culture revolving around continuous improvement.
American industrialist Henry Ford knew a little something about employee pride and ownership. When he was asked what he would do if he suddenly found himself responsible for a failing business because of excessive production costs, he quickly responded, “The first thing would be to see if the plant was clean. There is nothing so demoralizing to personnel than a dirty shop.”
All employees want to be proud of the facility where they work because without that pride, the day would be better spent at home or in a garden.
If we take the key thoughts and themes and weave them together in a continuously improving environment where culture can be a package deal, the food industry will be in a better place. Preparation and implementation of FSMA will be smooth and seamless, and the decisions made about programs and their execution will be perfect — just like the food they make.
This story is sponsored by POWER Engineers, which has one of the most comprehensive teams of engineers and specialists serving the baking and snack industry. As an extension of its clients' engineering teams, the company provides program management, integrated solutions and full facility design for the baking and snack industry. Learn more at www.powereng.com/food.