More than half of my client base are growing start-ups and this presents many (exciting) challenges. The regulations can be confusing, and keeping organized can be overwhelming. Owners are often acting as the Bookkeeper, Marketing Director, Salesperson, Sanitation Team, Operator, in addition to many other hats. The role of incorporating Food Safety and Quality Assurance into their company culture and everyday practices can seem like a huge leap – but it really doesn’t need to be if you break it down to the basics.
Suddenly that momentous call from retail-chain buyer happens and everything changes. This is the big opportunity that can take your company from farmer’s markets/local small retailers to the shelves of 10+ stores. From one simple, manual production line to three production lines with an ink-jet date coders (no more manual date-code guns!). From a staff of 1-3 to a staff of 12. With this leap comes the expectation from the larger retailer that your company has a quality management system in place, which has been audited by a Third-party. This can also mean that any claims made are backed up by a certification (i.e. Organic, Non-GMO, Gluten-Free).
So what should you do during this transition period or, better yet, before?
- Regular record-keeping. I cannot stress this more than enough – it might start with a simple journal you use everyday to record the events and transactions that had occurred, but it should progress into a series of standard forms recording regular activities, and monitoring key process parameters. Key records such as shipping and receiving activities includes recording the quantity and the lot codes of the items received and finished products shipped. Another important record for traceability are batch/recipe records – whenever a batch of product is being made at the mixing
level, the quantities of ingredients and their corresponding lot codes should be recorded as they are added into the mix. It’s also important to record any waste of ingredient and blends/finished products to capture loss. A sanitation record is vital, in which you would record the daily sanitation tasks carried out. Other critical records should be monitoring process controls and parameters; for example if you are baking a product you should be recording on a regular basis the time elapsed and temperature reached of the baked product. If your facility has temperature-controlled rooms or equipment the temperature should be monitored and recorded on a daily basis, at minimum.These basic forms can be the tip of the iceberg. However, it is great to start with the fundamentals as soon as you can. This will help establish consistent record-keeping habits, and helps promote an aspect of quality and safety in the workplace, even if you are currently just a two-person operation. My services do include setting up my client with a complete set of forms, accompanied with training.In conjunction with these records another critical area of focus, which is often overlooked, are your ingredient suppliers.
- Supplier Approval Documentation – The safety and quality of the finished product is not only determined by the processes at your facility (i.e. time/temperature, proper labelling, sanitation), but it truly starts with the ingredients you are using in your formulations. You should be requesting a series of quality documentation from your ingredients suppliers. This gives you access to the product specification data (i.e. nutritional information, subcomponents, pH, colour parameters,
etc.), potential allergen contaminants, and qualifications of the supplier (i.e. audit certifications). When I am working with clients I marry this with a personalized questionnaire and a risk assessment.Another key piece of information to request from suppliers is a Certification of Analysis upon every lot/shipment. This document records all basic tests and evaluations that the ingredient lot was assessed for before release and shipment. This series of supplier documentation provides accountability to your suppliers and, under your review, it will help you identify any risks that you may have not considered (i.e. the facility handles peanuts on the same line as the ingredient you are buying and you are claiming the product to be peanut-free).
There are additional facets to setting up a quality and food safety management system, however I do believe basic record keeping and ingredient supplier documentation are important first steps to establish as early as possible. If you employ the above programs, when a larger-retailer does expect a food safety audit you will have established a strong basis.
It is never too early to establish a culture of quality and food safety; the earlier you begin with basic documentation practices, the easier it will be to build up to a full HACCP plan and eventually a GFSI-level quality management system.
In future blog-posts I will be exploring ways in which traditional paperwork can be simplified using common, accessible technologies and software.