How to Develop a SOLID Foundation for Food Safety & Quality Management

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Jennifer Kinion
Contributing Writer

For food and beverage companies, managing compliance is an integral component of everyday operations. In addition to complying with regulatory, audit, and customer requirements, organizations must also protect themselves from product recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks. The ability to ensure effective outcomes in these areas relies heavily on a strong food safety and quality management (FSQM) system.

A robust food safety and quality management (FSQM) system is built on the following four key elements:

  • Prerequisite programs, including sanitation, maintenance, allergen control, etc.

  • HACCP plans to identify proper critical control points, or Food Safety Plans which identify preventive controls

  • Quality Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to ensure the quality of products

  • Critical Quality Points (CQPs), which can be identified by performing quality risk assessments

Beyond supporting these elements, FSQM systems must also meet regulatory, audit, and customer requirements, all while protecting the company from product recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks. Companies must therefore have strong quality assurance (QA) teams with effective training to satisfy these demands on an ongoing basis.

Oftentimes, the QA departments in food and beverage companies are short-staffed, which leaves management personnel to repeatedly put out fires. Instead of progressing to a level where they can effectively mitigate risks and optimize the performance of their FSQM systems, these professionals must dedicate their time and effort to simply managing compliance.

Ultimately, QA management starts with strong leadership: once QA teams are backed by strong commitment and sponsorship, they can fulfill their roles more effectively. Senior management must view food safety as a necessary component of doing business, ensuring coverage for multiple shifts and promoting a positive food safety culture with QA and operations working cooperatively.

Additionally, training for competency is also crucial to FSQM system efficacy. QA personnel, food safety teams, and operations managers should all have thorough training to understand not just what needs to be done to support food safety and quality efforts, but also why it must be done. Training programs should be provided to ensure competency at both managerial and technician levels.

Challenges to Managing FSQM Systems

There are numerous challenges in effectively managing FSQM systems. Here are some of the most noteworthy obstacles companies face:

  • Inadequate sponsorship from senior management or operations: Some companies may benefit from a short training program to help senior management understand the risks businesses can face in terms of product recalls. By gaining a deeper understanding of what could go wrong in the industry, senior management teams may become more likely to provide the resources needed to help QA teams grow and develop. This can also aid in developing strategies to address issues with inadequate staffing and turnover for QA departments.

  • Customer specifications and complaints: Managing customer specifications continues to be one of the most significant challenges QA teams face. The key to alleviating these challenges is to ensure realistic specifications are being set in the first place. Make sure the requirements are achievable given your company’s resources and processing facilities.

  • Audit management: Most companies have a significant number of procedures which must be controlled within the facility and within records. Given the vast number of records generated on a daily basis, companies can benefit by implementing an electronic system for managing records, thereby aiding in audit readiness. Overall, this can help to support management of regulatory, audit, and customer compliance.

While these challenges are difficult to manage in complex food processing and manufacturing environments, an increasing number of food processors and manufacturers are implementing food safety technology to enhance visibility and gain better control over their FSQM management activities. In doing so, they are able to drive productivity, reduce waste, and achieve better bottom-line results.