Written by Katie Edwards
With the busy season for Central Valley agriculture just around the corner, it’s essential to keep in mind some key concepts to help you keep your food safety plan in check. Hullers and dryers, dehydrators, storage facilities, packing, and processing facilities must be ready to receive, handle, and process upcoming crops safely. The keys to being harvest ready are the same as being a safe food provider. It all begins with proper training, sanitation, maintenance, and a thorough review of your facility and processes. As you gear up for the end of summer, here are a few main points to keep in mind as you start checking things off the list.
Check #1 – How’s Your Training?
Have you double checked that your staff are all appropriately trained and understand your company food safety culture?
If not, you should.
Training your staff on standard food safety practices
Many processors struggle with seasonal staffing fluctuations, as well as employee turnover. It is crucial to make sure that all new employees receive the proper Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) training and any other food safety training your facility may require.
Update everyone when procedures change
When a process needs to be modified, even if the change is small, the documented process needs to be updated. Then there should always be an associated training for any employees affected by that procedure to ensure they understand what the changes are.
Focus on the “Why”
Employees are much more likely to follow a procedure when they understand why they’re being asked to support it. Think about employee buy-in. If they understand why what they do is important and feel like part of the solution, they are much more likely to be invested in their role. It will also help them to remember the steps in the procedure because they understand the logic behind it and are not just being asked to memorize the stages they’re being asked to follow.
Ask for feedback
Because your staff is on the plant floor, they will often provide some of the most valuable insights into the operation to help improve it. However, remember, they may not feel comfortable speaking up in a group setting when you’re training them. Be sure to ask for feedback during training, or afterward on the plant floor in a more comfortable environment.
Verify, verify, verify
In most food safety systems, there is a struggle to find enough time to verify programs properly. Verification is done through internal audits, which include observation, interviews, review of records, and reviewing the procedure to make sure it still makes sense and is up to date. So, schedule out those verification activities and stick to them. Move the time if you have to, but don’t cancel the verification. It’s one of the most critical elements of your food safety program. Its purpose is two-fold:
- To make sure the program is being followed as intended
- To make sure the program, when followed, is effective
Check #2 – Is Your Food Safety Plan Always On?
Facilities have food safety plans for a reason. They create structured processes, define problem areas, and if done well, increase efficiencies. Most importantly, they help companies create safe food.
For these reasons, you should be implementing your food safety plan year-round. Not only is this just best practice, but also if you practice your food safety plan in the off-season, you will be more prepared when it gets busy.
Organizing your plan
Keep all of your policies, procedures, and records together in one well-organized spot so you can find everything quickly. Especially during an audit, you will want to have everything easily accessible in case your auditor asks for it.
Make sure that, if you have seasonal workers coming in for peak, you get them well-trained on vital areas including their roles, GMPs, and Critical Control Points. During audits, there can be issues with a lack of understanding of basic practices like improper hand washing, food in processing areas, and dirty and clean utensils stored together. By training your employees, it will limit the number of corrective actions or the score of the facility during the audit.
Food safety systems are meant to be used day in and day out, not polished just for the audit. If you practice your program all year round, having an audit during peak will be a lot less stressful.
Ensure you have someone or a few people on hand to take on the daily workload of the food safety practitioner during the audit since the practitioner is going to be tied up with the auditor for a day or two.
Check #3 – Plan in advance – What Laboratory Are You Using & What Products Will Be Tested?
Know what you need to have tested.
What are your customers asking? Are there requirements from the country you are planning to ship your product to?
Getting your product sampled is an integral part of your food safety process. Always make sure you send in enough samples to ensure that you get accurate data. If you’re not sure how many to send in, check with your laboratory customer service team.
Have the appropriate storage conditions for your samples to ensure you keep them in good condition. You want them to make it to the lab for testing. Having proper storage beforehand will help make that happen.
Plan accordingly for the turnaround time based on the tests you’ve requested. Each test has a different set of methods that require different amounts of time. Work with your third-party laboratory to determine what the turnaround time is for the tests you need before it gets busy. You don’t want to be waiting for a shipment to go out because the turnaround time was not discussed.
What It All Means
As Jon Kimble, Senior Food Safety Manager for Safe Food Alliance, said, “Time and time again we see that when the pressure is on, decisions must be made on competing priorities, often leaving food safety left behind. It’s in this critical “crunch” time when production ramps up and tensions are high, that food safety and product quality are more important than ever. Unfortunately, over the years, several companies have compromised on food safety, resulting in recalls, significant financial costs, foodborne illness, and even death.”
To be successful and ensure your food safety plan does not go awry during season, follow each of these steps recommended from a training, audit, and laboratory perspective. If you need guidance in any of these areas, reach out to a Safe Food Alliance expert to help relieve some stress and pain points before your facility gets too hectic.
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