At times, it may seem overwhelming to gage how the recently released FDA Food Safety Modernization Act regulations could impact business operations. As we continue to expand our food safety services through our new division of DFA, Safe Food Alliance, we will spotlight those companies who have achieved excellence in their food safety programs. Beginning with this issue of the newsletter, we will feature a company that has earned a place on our prestigious Pinnacle Club roster.
Our goal is to de-mystify the process and inspire others to seek a leadership position by qualifying as a Pinnacle Club member like Sacramento Valley Walnut Growers (SVWG) who gained entrance to the club by achieving superior audit scores for their food safety program. By exceeding 1800 points in various unannounced GMP audits, SVWG has various certificates and plaques certifying their excellence on display in their facility for employee recognition and to build confidence among customers who buy their walnuts.
Sacramento Valley Walnut Growers, LLC is a grower owned processor and marketer of California walnuts which provides a broad spectrum of inshell and shelled walnuts for the domestic and export markets, including the retail, re-bagging, ingredient and food service sectors. Cameron Black is the general manager.
According to Jeremiah Szabo, Vice President of Operations, SVWG also received the Plant of the Year award last July based on three criteria: “They continue to be among the top scoring facilities in unannounced audits; as a certified facility, they operate on a high level Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) audit platform; and they have demonstrated continuous improvement practices throughout their facility by making infrastructure changes and establishing a high standard food safety-conscious culture among employees on every level. Through our Safe Food Certification program, they also achieved AA grade from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).”
For over 60 years, Safe Food Alliance has provided facility inspections and unannounced GMP audits designed to verify that food processors not only meet, but exceed current regulatory requirements to help drive continuous improvements. The audits follow FDA’s food safety requirements in its 21 CFR 110 regulation and additional requirements based on industry best practices. Unannounced audits have earned a memorandum of understanding with FDA which considers the Safe Food Alliance audit reports when visiting the facility and recognition from the California Department of Public Health and other safe food authorities.
According to SVWG’s Cameron Black, “While food safety is not driven by our bottom line, it’s important to recognize that ignoring it can have far more devastating consequences. Look at the recall costs endured in some recent instances or the blow dealt to a company’s brand.”
Since training is emphasized in the recent FSMA regulation update, Black believes that food safety should be an integral part of any facility’s operation: “Our food safety programs take a full spectrum approach to looking at our processes and evaluating them to reduce risk, he explains. “We teach food safety to new employees first before we begin training on other aspects of their jobs to establish the hierarchy of importance right from the start.”
“We encourage all members of our staff to contribute to our Food Safety Culture by educating them on what food safety means and urging them to speak up if they see potential issues,” he continues. “To foster employee engagement, we strive to always be appreciative of the information employees provide and solicit their assistance in crafting solutions. Our team understands the importance of continuous learning to expand their knowledge by attending workshops, conferences and reading industry publications. We stress with all employees that we are handling food that will be served at someone’s family table; we should always look at our product as something we might serve our own family. If people understand the goal of a procedure they will be more successful in following the desired principles.”
According to Szabo, there will be even more focus from customers on proactively keeping food safe for consumers who unconditionally expect safe food in the marketplace: “Companies must be vigilant with their food safety and quality practices by investing in the future. There will be more emphasis on supply chain controls and supplier verifications of food safety practices driven by GFSI and FSMA requirements. One of the challenges will be to educate growers about being a part of the supply chain as required by the Produce Safety regulations. We have specially trained staff who will be leading sessions in 2017 for grower compliance requirements.
SVWG, a comparatively new member of DFA, engages food safety experts in Safe Food Alliance and Safe Food Certification’s services, according to Black: “Safe Food Alliance’s focus on becoming a premiere food safety source for the western US spurred our company to seek membership in the organization. We have utilized the GMP auditing and consulting services offered by Safe Food Alliance to improve our food safety practices throughout our supply chain. Safe Food Certifications is our certification body for BRC. The resources available to us from the two entities have helped us continually improve our operation and stay updated on the changing landscape and is a great resource for finding practical methods to remain in compliance. The team has a broad scope of experience and knowledge of the day-to-day challenges faced by a food facility.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge in 2017 will be the rapidly evolving food safety environment according to Black who says, “It’s critical to remain apprised of the changing dynamics and ensure your business remains relevant.”
Safe Food Alliance process controls and behavioral changes spurred by more training at all levels of the organization. Corporate complacency is no longer an option as food safety must be the #1 operational priority in today’s marketplace. Investment in facilities, equipment and supplies trump risk. “People’s lives and company brand reputation are at risk because after all,” concludes Szabo, “the food industry is operating a global kitchen for billions of consumers worldwide who rely on our expertise and best judgment to ‘do the right thing!’”