The food safety services department at AIB International had a busy year with the organization's makeover.

Focusing on efficiency and quality for clients

It was a busy 2014 for the food safety services department at AIB International. Not only did the organization undertake a major makeover, it worked hard to fill industry gaps by introducing key products into the marketplace, said Maureen Olewnik, senior vice-president of food safety services.

One such product, called “Inspection Only,” was designed to fill the gap between what happens on the plant floor and the office review of programs required in certification audits.

“The AIBI Consolidated Standards for Inspection, our proprietary GMP inspection, is predominantly focused on a physical inspection of ‘on-the-floor’ production activities and includes program review information,” Dr. Olewnik explained. “Since those program reviews are being covered in GFSI certification audits, we’ve stripped program reviews out and are now offering just the physical inspection piece of that activity. We are seeing very nice growth in that activity.”

Another major product AIB International rolled out in 2014 is called FS360.

“It’s purely a problem solving approach,” she said. “The inspector goes into a facility and may spend the entire time in one area, helping folks within that facility identify and define where a problem may be occurring and come up with concrete ways of fixing the problems they find. It’s very educational, very hands-on, and not forced. It’s a product where we offer help to facilities in problem solving.”

In addition to new products, the past year has been one of several successes for AIB International.

Dr. Olewnik said one of the big successes coming out of the end of last year was a net increase of 15 food safety professionals worldwide.

Maureen Olewnik, senior vice-president of food safety services, said one of the big successes coming out of the end of last year was a net increase of 15 food safety professionals worldwide.

AIB International went through a substantial restructure in 2014, where many of the food safety professionals were moved into management and quality assurance positions. This change in structure allowed the organization to focus on improving and maintaining the quality and consistency of the food safety offerings.

“Net 15 new hires doesn’t sound like a huge number, but when you look at the growth based on the number of other people that had changed and moved to management and quality oversight positions, replenishment of the working food safety professionals, was a substantial activity,” she said. “It was in excess of 30 people we brought on board, put through training and got back into the field as full blown food safety professionals. That was a big success from our managers’ perspective.”

Dr. Olewnik also was pleased with the significant investment AIB International put into training. With the ramping up of certification audit activity, and with some of the training it had to do with new food safety professionals coming on board, the investment in training was no small task, she said.

“We had substantial training that impacted over 60% of our field staff,” she said. “We have always required 100% of our staff to go through continuous improvement training every year. In 2014 we invested in additional training activities for over 60% of the food safety professionals. This training was above and beyond what we have as our baseline for our continuous training. Again, it was a very large investment from AIB International’s perspective and really spoke to the commitment of the general managers to make sure that we had the right people and the right qualifications in place for our clients as we rolled out this new structure.”

AIB International moved to an organizational structure that features five global regions. The intent is to improve regional client support while improving the efficiencies of the food safety professionals (FSPs), thereby improving the quality of life through work/life balance. Dr. Olewnik said the organization has made strides in this area, but it remains a tough task given the rigid requirements of the auditing/inspection process.

“(Improving the quality of life for our FSPs) is still one of our No. 1 goals, and it’s challenging,” she said. “One of the biggest challenges is certification audits and the requirements on the auditors for very specific knowledge and a background in certification auditing. These requirements cause many of our auditors to travel outside of their home region. Expansion in numbers and positioning of qualified auditors is improving this situation. We have better management of travel than we did last year, but we still have some distance to go. Quality of life for those food safety professionals, and making sure we have the efficiencies in place from our clients’ perspective go hand in hand so it’s still very high on our list of critical control activities.”

Grain-based foods remains AIB International’s main market, but beverages, dairy, packaging, warehousing and ingredients also are important areas. What the organization has done is recognize where its expertise is and focus more intently on those areas.

“We’ve backed out of activities that are not in our wheelhouse, like fish and meat, some of the field agricultural practices-type audits,” Dr. Olewnik said. “We’re really moving away from those and focusing on our core strength markets.”