Check out my new blog post for the Toronto Food Industry Incubator ‘Food Starter’ :
In early March I had a great trip over to Barrie, Ontario for the Agri-Food Management Institute’s Food Entrepreneurs Conference, hosted in conjunction with Georgian College. I am on AMI’s Food Safety Culture panel, a team of food safety experts, and was delighted to be invited to attend this truly unique conference.
This conference was extremely informative about the current status of the food industry in Ontario; in relation to local emerging entrepreneurs. The conference was also forward-thinking in that many presentations weren’t just describing what is currently happening, but what the food industry has in store! I thought the frequent small-panel discussions were particularly effective at engaging everyone – providing a myriad of options to what panels one could attend which led to vibrant Q&A discussion.
Although learning about current innovative practices from small companies was, without a doubt, exciting, talking to entrepreneurs and learning about their needs helped me understand even more what role food safety has to play and how I can more effectively serve the food industry as a Consultant.
Many up-and-coming companies approached our table, informing us of their needs and we were able to identify a few common trends. First, many small businesses are using large shared kitchens and are uncertain of where they exactly fit in food safety standards, especially when they are looking to expand and require certifications.
Second, more companies are looking to strike an important balance between traditional, natural, and organic methods for food production and maintaining a safe, quality product. This included inquiries about natural preservative systems, packaging technologies, and validation of their products’ food safety matrices.
The last trend we identified has to do with the question of where to start when it it comes to establishing a Quality Assurance program. Many entrepreneurs have thought about and created fantastic products that are pushing the boundaries of food and this is great, but lose their momentum or get discouraged when stores require certifications in order to sell their products. This is something not many businesses prepare for, but can quite easily get a head start on without needing to sacrifice time and energy (that can be better spent on developing new products!). In my previous blog post, I spoke about a few easy steps to get businesses on the right track for establishing the records but also the culture necessary for food safety.
In short, my best advice – start early, do not wait 2, 5, 10-years down the road – having strong working and documented quality programs is not only a competitive advantage by opening doors to more retailers, but the earlier you incorporate QA, the more integrated your food safety culture will be in your company. A present food safety and quality culture means like-minded employees, suppliers, and customers who feel a sense of connection and passion for your company and products.
Other themes in questions were regarding labelling regulations, shelf-life testing, and typical retailer QA-program requirements. I was happy to help provide guidance and build relationships with these small-manufacturers.
The conference ended with the keynote speaker, Mike Lee, of The Future Market (http://thefuturemarket.com) – and what a great finale! The Future Market, is a mock-grocery store set in the year 2065, and with this model comes potential food products and distribution systems. Mike discussed the vital importance of thinking out of the box and using the tech industry as a model for innovation. He noted fascinating examples of 3D Food-printing, waste reduction platforms, and embracing seasonality in product lines. You could feel the excitement in the room – fuelling the minds of entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in moving the food industry forward.
If your food company (small or big) needs guidance regarding food safety, QA, product innovation, and project management please reach out to my team at: email@example.com . We are here to help you grow!
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.
San Francisco is a city where there is a lot happening and much of this has to do with their tech industry. In November I went down to participate in Bon Appetech, a conference that is looking at how technology can help innovate the food industry.
The first talk I found interesting was from Agtech Insight founder Arron Mahenheim. His project was to better integrate emerging technologies into the food production industry, such as open interfaces, converting paper records to digital to make records easily accessible, and to better control/track the use of irrigation, pesticides and fertilizers.
Another talk, called “Fix the Fundamentals”, made note of some particular issues in start up projects that involve the marriage between tech and food. Based on other talks and people I spoke to at the conference, an important piece of advice was to have the tech side focus their energy in a more collaborative manner, working on investment/leverage experience. When this advice isn’t followed, it can lead to unrealistic timelines in assuming that the food/agricultural industry will adopt the technology quickly. At the heart of the talk was an important point: Try to understand the food/agricultural industry, with its likelihood to accept and use new technology, its consumers’ current needs/wants (such as the desire for more information regarding what they are exactly buying), and what its already effective at doing without new apps, in order to find the pockets where there is both a market for technological innovation and where it will actually be helpful.
I found this talk particularly interesting for Quality Coach because it paid far more attention to the features we can preserve in our industry as well as being realistic about the willingness to change old habits. Working with a variety of clients, I have seen these two points first hand and I think there are more points to be made on this topic. For example, designing traceability programs is already very complex as it is, but adding in new technology (that might be at face value very helpful) to the process might only make such programs needlessly complicated and could even confuse a very important procedure. In a market that is only becoming more sensitive to ingredients such as allergens, I think it is understandable that food companies have been taking their time with new technologies insofar as their current methods are working.
In June, I had the privilege of attending Expo Milano 2015, which was an amazing exhibition of over 140 countries’ food innovation!
One force for these interesting projects centered around the general theme of biodiversity. Of course, in the past, I have learned about biodiversity, but it wasn’t until this conference that I started to consider the role of the food industry in it.
Since my work revolves around assisting companies in attaining audit certifications, such as those for gluten-free, organic, and non-gmo products, I was interested in the role food safety has in ensuring that food products, throughout the production process, are sustainable and not being detrimental to biodiversity. This includes conscious sourcing and evaluating how suppliers farm and process their raw materials.
This photo demonstrates a wide range of superb Italian gluten-free products under the Coop private-label brand. I enjoyed many of these products from the Future Food District, state-of-the-art Coop grocery store; with interactive screens which would populate product information (nutritional information, carbon-foot print, origin/traceability) as one would select a product from the shelves. This heightened consumer experience was a hilight of my Expo experience.
The American Pavilion gave us a look at an emerging trend in produce: Hydroponic growing. The wall shown below was developed by Bright Agrotech and shows larger scale hydroponic growing that is suited for urban settings!
Expo Milano 2015 was a creative portal to explore many countries’ food culture and initiatives in food innovation, sustainability efforts, and AgTech advancements.
p.s. I have to give a shout out to one of my favourite dining experiences in Italy, a quaint restaurant in downtown Milan called Trattoria da Abele Temperanza with superb fish and risotto dishes!
I thought it was important to share my typical QA-based consulting process. Please note this outline is general, as it depends on the needs of the specific customer. This does not cover the product development/project management processes.
So here it goes! :
When a potential customer first approaches me for help, the first thing I need is background information.
Typically, the best way to get an idea of the needs of the customer is to visit the facility and get an idea of the current processes in place (if any). Depending on location and the timeline, this may also be done over the phone, however I prefer to visit the client as much as possible.
Many of my clients are small to medium, fast-growing manufacturers that either have no QA-department, or a single QA-employee. Either the client needs to improve or create a quality program and/or are preparing for a customer or certification audit with specific requirements.
Once I have a clear understanding of what the client’s objectives are, and a rough timeline, then I can draw up a detailed proposal. This proposal outlines all work packages, associated documentation, milestones, and timelines.
I like to make sure the client is comfortable with the proposal, and that a clear plan has been developed and agreed upon.
Then the work begins!!! Either I work with an employee at the company, or independently, on designing and implementing quality programs that are realistic, meeting requirements, functional, and maintainable. I also guide the company on how to use these programs.
I truly believe in maintenance! This comes in form of regular monitoring and verification/validation programs, which I can further set-up. Too often companies just ‘get audit ready’, and then after a month some bad habits creep up. Which is why I like to offer a regular ‘maintenance’ program after the audit has been achieved.
I hope this helps clarify what my QA-Consulting process looks like.
Please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Welcome to my new and improved website!
I am working on some exciting blog posts. Some of the first posts will cover my recent visit to Milan for the World Expo and gluten-free product reviews.
In the meantime if you do want any information regarding my services please e-mail me at: