Food manufacturers, storage facilities, distributors, and retailers are managing business continuity challenges daily and the urgency to develop stronger food safety management systems has never been greater.
Many in the Australian food industry had more than acceptable food safety programs in place before the pandemic, yet still faced unprecedented challenges as it unfolded. Supply chains and business continuity were most significantly impacted, and a new level of risk management evolved, above and beyond any seen previously. Across the industry cleaning, hygiene, and sanitation practices have been transformed and a much sharper focus has developed around sustainability.
In this blog, we will uncover:
According to research done by the CSIRO “ …the Australian food and agribusiness industry could be worth $250 billion by 2030 if growth can continue at historical rates (~2.4% per annum)”. This kind of growth is impossible without a commitment to implementing the right systems. Food safety management systems underpin not only the capacity of all operators within the food and beverage industry today to get their product or service to market, but also their potential to scale their business safely and effectively for the future.
A food safety management system (FSMS) is a program that specifically articulates how a business operating within the human food chain manages and improves its food safety practices. It demonstrates the integrity of that business’ supply chain, including their sourcing of quality raw materials and ingredients, product labelling and packaging, and safety declarations around allergens and contamination by potentially harmful components. Along with the assurance of food safety and the prevention of adverse health events for consumers, a FSMS will detail the policies and procedures that are in place in the event of a product recall or food fraud.
There are fundamental aspects of a food safety program that must be in place, however, there are also specific areas that are often challenging across the board. In 2022, the most common challenges for businesses to address in their food safety program are:
- cleaning, hygiene, and sanitation
- managing supply chains
- food safety culture
- business continuity
Cleaning, Hygiene, and Sanitation
Of course, the foundations of food safety lie in effective and thorough cleaning and sanitation of all aspects of the facility and its operations. A business should understand the risk factors specific to their operations – such as whether they’re a wet or dry facility, if they’re exposed to environmental contaminants, or whether they have the adequate or appropriate equipment and resources for their requirements. Knowing this background detail ensures a complete understanding of the business’ current sanitation practices and will inform what elements of their food safety program need attention. Effective cleaning, hygiene and sanitation are crucial in a food safe facility, not only to remove existing bacteria, but also to maintain an environment that prevents further (or new) growth and spread of bacteria. This can be done by consistent management of conditions so as not to encourage microbial growth.
Getting the basics in place is probably the most important. This includes knowing the difference between ‘cleaning’ and ‘sanitising’ and ensuring appropriate cleaning and sanitisation procedures are in place, as well as any special requirements to factor in around COVID-19 protocols. It’s also advised to develop a pre-operational inspection checklist that documents the condition of equipment and processing areas before production commences, and after cleaning and sanitation is completed. These inspections can be regularly conducted by the relevant qualified team members on site such as the production supervisor or the QC leads. Incorporating tools such as allergen rapid testing kits into the program is also useful.
Managing Supply Chains
Some of the biggest news stories of the pandemic were around supply chain issues – from lockdowns and empty supermarket shelves to dwindling menus and understaffing. Every link in the chain was impacted and as greater risks than ever before presented themselves, the cracks appeared quickly, and the usual resolutions fell short.
Effective supply chain management depends on a solid understanding of the present-day risks and challenges as well as those on the horizon and ever evolving, including, but not limited to, food fraud, food safety, worker welfare, responsible sourcing, and environmental, social and corporate governance. This then ensures the business is adequately prepared to improve supply chain risk management practices before and as they arise. Effective supply chain management can evolve when strategic risk-based thinking is prioritised and dedicated and empowered risk management staff are in place. This creates a foundation for a strong food safety culture to be developed, where quality assurance and technical staff are supported by the broader team and a collective mindset of operational responsibility evolves, to ensure there is visibility, accountability, engagement and control.
There has been an increasing focus on sustainability over the past decade, due to an upward shift in consumer priorities and expectations around health, the environment, and the ethics of how food is made. This encompasses how the raw materials and components are grown and sourced (including the welfare of animals impacted by its production), what effect the supply of that product may have on climate, the environment, or local ecosystems, and how a business manages its production and waste. Organisations need to ensure they can back the claims they have made, as well as be realistic in the sustainability goals they set to achieve.
This has taken on particular significance in the food industry in recent times and companies are re-evaluating their efforts around sustainability in all aspects of their operations, including more deeply embedding it across all aspects of their CSR initiatives.
Food Safety Culture
All of the points landed on previously are of equal importance, but without a robust and deeply integrated food safety culture, there will inevitably be failures. The embedding of food safety practices and principles within an organisation requires a culture led by practical strategies and measures that everyone can understand. There are several important steps to follow to establish and implement a food safety plan, but once it’s in place, the development of a food safety culture within the organisation is also essential.
For food safety to be truly embedded into an organisation, a mindset that thinks beyond compliance is required. A shared food safety culture is developed through a subtle but meaningful shift away from the gold standard practices of clipboards and ticking boxes. It becomes evident when all the logistics are in place and food safety exists as everyday behaviour.
With compliance and culture defined and aligned, the focus must then shift to the future and the ongoing development of a brand’s resilience and reputation. It’s not enough to simply establish, implement, and maintain when it comes to food safety programs. Food safety management systems must be continuously monitored, measured, evaluated, and improved. The integrity of a company’s food safety practice and culture is what provides the richness and integrity to any FSMS – with all components coming together in ways that are intricate yet cohesive.
The strength of a brand’s FSMS, practice and culture will only take it so far, however. Proactively integrating robust action plans around risk and potential crises is of fundamental importance, especially in an unpredictable world with an insatiably hungry news cycle. This has never in our living history been more prescient than the last few years, with staff shortages and supply chain interruptions significantly impacting how a business continues to operate. A business continuity plan will prepare a business for any crisis that may come.
The adoption of a food safety management system enables organisations to systematically examine every aspect of their food handling processes. Critical analysis and review of a FSMS on a regular basis creates important opportunities for continuous improvement.
Implementing food safety programs can be complex but SAI Global cuts through the complexity, translating theory, recognised standards, and technical requirements into practical measures that will help people understand, evaluate, and boost an organisation’s food safety practices and culture. By adopting the appropriate Standards for an organisation, people can then follow a structured and systematic approach to implement the management systems. This includes developing documentation to meet business and standards requirements, training staff and implementing systems in the business, conducting internal audits, and management review meetings.
The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) has revolutionised food safety practices, with food safety as culture now the defining feature of food safety management systems globally. An embedded food safety culture is key to maintaining an effective food safety program  that is continuously evolving.
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With over 25 years of experience and a global reputation built on first-class delivery and technical support. SAI Global has partnered with the food industry for decades, engaging with hundreds of food and beverage suppliers, manufacturers and contractors throughout their assessment and certification process – while making the process as seamless and simple as possible.
Adding value is at the core of our business and our processes. Let us show you how assessment and certification can add value to your business. Australia-wide, delivering over 60,000 audits each year, your local SAI Global team is equipped to support your unique requirements.
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This blog forms part of a series outlining what food safety management systems are, how to implement and measure it, enhancing your programs with training, audit and certification, and continuously improving your food safety culture.
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