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The Case for Audits: Potential Pandemic Blind Spots

internal auditing

Much ink has been spilled detailing the impacts of COVID-19 on the food industry. News outlets, blogs, webinars, and more continue to relay stories about food processors overwhelmed with COVID-positive employees and grocery stores working around the clock to keep shelves stocked. With hospitals struggling to provide access to care, food safety is now perhaps more critical than ever.

As the Food Protection and Defense Institute’s Director, Dr. Jennifer van de Ligt, previously detailed for us here, the pandemic’s effects have varied across food industry sectors. Demand has toppled for sites that provide products to the foodservice sector and skyrocketed for those supplying retailers. With such unprecedented fluctuation, audit activities are now top-of-mind in securing global food safety.

The Case for the Audit: Potential Pandemic Blind Spots

There are several instances in food production during the pandemic that exemplify the importance of both internal and external audits. On sites where production increases exponentially, new hires must be brought on and adequately trained. Audits ensure these new employees follow food safety programs correctly and that they fully understand how their role affects product safety.

These production increases could lead to less time for certain food safety procedures, like prerequisite programs for sanitation and preventive maintenance. This reduction in time can lead to several product quality failures, such as microbiological or foreign material contamination risks. Internal and external audits minimize food safety risks and help your company avoid recalls.

Amid a global pandemic, the logistics of on-site audits seem incredibly complex. These complexities are not insurmountable – new and innovative ways to conduct portions of the audits virtually continue to become the norm. In any event, audits must continue for independent third-party verification of the effectiveness of food safety and quality systems to meet customer requirements.

The Rise of the Remote Audit

Tasked with finding a new way to navigate the audit process, the industry has seen a rise in virtual audits. Though at first remote audits were regarded as a temporary solution to travel restriction and social distancing guidelines, they are now becoming the way of the future. So much so that GFSI has recently released their proposed Benchmarking requirements for remote activities to be used in combination with on-site audits. Several other international food safety CPOs such as the Brand Reputation Compliance Global Standards (BRCGS) and Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI) also allow remote alternatives to on-site audits during COVID-19.

Remote audits present a slew of pros and cons. For the auditor, the hassle and expense of travel, lodging, and the uncertainty around flights are all eliminated. However, this leaves questions about really getting a feel for a facility’s processes through sight, touch, and smell – cornerstones of the in-person audit. There is also the challenge of not being able to see all aspects of the operation during virtual audits. For auditees, record reviews potentially become a breeze, while the audit scope comes into question. The answer could be a blended or partial remote auditing methodology, in which some audit components happen on-site while others occur remotely.

Conclusion

As the world remains in flux, audits continue to evolve. To keep our employees and food supply safe, everyone must increase buy-in and flexibility for both internal and external audits. Learn more about upskilling your workforce in internal audit best practices with our comprehensive internal audit training solutions.

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Passover Prep: Special Kosher Certification Explained

kosher passover

In kosher production, there are special circumstances that warrant extra concerns and requirements. One of these is Passover. Passover spans eight days each spring and is one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays. During Passover, kosher consumers do not eat or possess any “chametz” or leavened grain (or its derivatives). Chametz refers to any food or drinks containing wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, or their derivatives that were not blocked from leavening or fermentation. Foods eaten during Passover require a unique kosher certification. This certification and subsequent labeling tell consumers it is okay to buy and consume your product during this time.

This blog will detail what you need to know about producing kosher food for Passover and which food items don’t need a special kosher for Passover certification.

The Kosher for Passover Market

If you are on the fence this year about producing kosher food Passover, a look into the thriving market may convince you to act. According to our training partner OU Kosher and Impact Group News, “over 90% of American Jewish people purchase Passover items or participate in a Seder meal. The Passover shopping season accounts for $1.3 billion” of the booming Kosher food market.

Producing Passover-certified food also opens the door to consumers who suffer from Celiac disease and those who prefer to keep a gluten-free diet. Passover shopping begins roughly a month in advance, so it is important to plan for your production and coordinate with a certifying agency as early as possible.

Preparing for Passover: Kosher Foods to Watch

If you oversee a beverage facility, you may be asking how kosher requirements affect you. Certain ingredients in a beverage facility may interact with Passover-prohibited food items, deeming them excluded from certification. For example, corn syrup and its high-fructose counterpart are key ingredients in beverage plants. However, kosher consumers who avoid corn will not be able to use any beverages made with these syrups during Passover. Often, plants choose to use sugar as a substation.

Vitamins, proteins, enzymes, and other additives occasionally contain grains or legumes. In other cases, these items may have been cultured using grains. Both cases pose problems for kosher for Passover foods.

Lastly, alcohol remains a Passover concern. While several beverage flavors use alcohol, if this ingredient came from a problematic grain, it cannot be consumed during Passover. Typically, beverage plants produce special Passover flavors under the close on-site supervision of a Rabbi.

Kosher for Passover-Exempt Foods

The following products do not require a special kosher for Passover certification, according to the OU. You can find further information on exemptions in the OU’s latest Guide to Passover.

  • Baking Soda
  • Regular Cocoa Powder 
  • Virgin Coconut Oil
  • Unflavored ground coffee (and some K-cups donning an OU symbol!)
  • Eggs
  • Frozen fruit (unsweetened)
  • Juice Concentrate (unsweetened)
  • Lemon & Lime Juice
  • Meat & Poultry (not ground)
  • Nuts (raw, whole)
  • Virgin Olive Oil
  • Raisins
  • Salmon
  • Non-iodized salt
  • Sugar (white, granulated)
  • Tea (unflavored, not decaffeinated)
  • Water (unflavored)

Does Milk Have to be Kosher-for-Passover Certified?

Milk does not require a special kosher for Passover certification. However, since milk contains additives (a chametz risk) it must be purchased (and therefore produced well in advance) of Passover.

Getting Your OU Kosher for Passover Certification

Passover production requires the presence of the Rabbi for the entirety of production. The Rabbi audits every aspect of production as it takes place, from kosherization of the production line and staging of ingredients to labeling. Since this type of production requires a Rabbi to be on site for the duration, it’s important to schedule and arrange with the certification agency in advance. This ensures the availability of Passover-sensitive raw materials and supervision.

Conclusion

Passover products are some of the most challenging to produce, but they bring great rewards. To learn more about what you can expect from Passover production in the bakery, beverage, and dairy industries, consider our online library of kosher production courseware. Built with the experts at OU Kosher, these courses further demystify the guidelines and benefits of the kosher food industry. Start learning today!

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How to Avoid the Top FDA Regulatory Violations of 2020

fda violations

In an unprecedented year for the food industry, regulatory compliance is top of mind as we all work to keep our employees, consumers, and products safe. These are the top violation groups for food manufacturing facilities in 2020, as reported by the FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs. Understanding these violations can help your organization safeguard against making these mistakes in 2021.

Top FDA Regulatory Violations

Develop an FSVP

Believe it or not, ORA reports the failure to develop a Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) as the most frequent FDA regulatory violation. What is an FSVP? According to the FDA, importers covered under the FSMA Rule for Foreign Suppliers must have a foreign supplier verification in place. Under this rule, importers must verify that their foreign supplies follow food safety standards equivalent to the standards established by the FDA. Companies that do not have an importer in the U.S. must appoint an FSVP agent responsible for these verification activities.

Activities that should be conducted under foreign supplier verification include the following:

Hazard Analysis / Identification

As you probably know by now, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) procedures are the backbone of every food safety system. This violation group saw facilities fail to identify a known or reasonably foreseeable hazard that required preventive control.

Hazard identification is conducted through thorough hazard analysis. This critical practice identifies the biological, chemical, or physical hazards that could occur at each step in your manufacturing process.

You must take care to identify all the potential hazards that could be associated with the raw materials, processes, and finished products to assure you identify all necessary Critical Control Points (CCPS) or Preventive Controls as applicable, or procedures at which you can apply control to prevent, eliminate, or reduce a hazard to an acceptable level.

Typical examples of CCPs and Preventive Controls include cooking processes, chilling, and metal detection.

To learn more about HACCP principles, HACCP plans, and CCPs, click here.

Pest Control

The third-largest group of FDA regulatory violations centers around pest control. In some cases, a failure to exclude pests from the food plant was cited. In others, a failure to use pesticides under precautions and restriction was noted. Both cases present an enormous problem in preventing the contamination of food supplies.

Sanitation Monitoring

This violation group cites facilities for not monitoring the sanitation conditions and practices with sufficient frequency to assure conformance with current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs). This includes:

  • safety of the water that comes into contact with food or food contact surfaces (including water used to manufacture ice)
  • the condition and cleanliness of food contact surfaces
  • prevention of cross-contamination from unsanitary objects
  • maintenance of handwashing, hand sanitizing, and toilet facilities
  • protection of food, food packaging material, and food contact surfaces from adulteration
  • proper labeling, storage, and use of toxic chemicals
  • control of employee health conditions

For more information on effective sanitation practices and how to avoid this violation umbrella, click here.

Conclusion

Want more insight into the citations issued against various regulations covered under 21 CFR 117 Preventive Controls for Human Food? Join our next Academy Live session. This 60-minute virtual roundtable expands on the top violation groups above and more, tackling everything from sanitation and Food Safety Plans, to allergens and training. Enrich our conversation with feedback from your own audit experiences and learn as your food industry peers weigh in using their own. To learn more and register, click here.

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Food Defense Qualified Individual: Everything You Need to Know

FDQI

Under the Food Safety Modernization Act Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration (21 CFR Part 121) regulation, commonly referred to as the IA Rule, covered facilities must develop and implement a food defense plan. The food defense plan protects their production’s actionable process steps from acts of intentional adulteration intended to cause wide-scale public health harm. While all personnel working at these most vulnerable steps are required to receive food defense awareness training (21 CFR 121.4(b)(2)), facilities must also have Food Defense Qualified Individual/s, or FDQI/s, to perform key activities required by the regulation. In this blog, we explore what exactly an FDQI is, its specific responsibilities, and how to achieve FDQI certification.

What are an FDQI’s responsibilities?

The FDQI is responsible for preparing your facility’s Food Defense Plan, conducting vulnerability assessments, identifying and explaining mitigation strategies, and conducting reanalysis as required by the rule. Because of this, FDQIs must possess a thorough understanding of the IA Rule, how to implement its requirements, and how to successfully train employees to carry out related procedures. They must also be ready and able to monitor and evaluate these steps for continued improvement.

FDQI Training Requirements

Again, while most employees at a food manufacturing facility must complete food defense awareness training under the FSMA IA rule, FDQIs need a much higher level of training. You can meet this requirement without completing any FSPCA-approved courses by providing documentation that proves adequate training or on-the-job experience to perform the activities.

The IA Rule requires an FDQI be trained to appropriately perform the following activities:

Vulnerability Assessment: Key Activity Types (KAT) Training is the easiest method of vulnerability training. This training teaches FDQIs to identify KATs and actionable process steps as a crucial part of vulnerability assessments conducted while building a company’s Food Defense Plan. If a more thorough method of a vulnerability assessment is desired, FDQIs may optionally choose to learn the fundamental element analysis method through the instructor-led FSPCA IAVA course offered by the Food Protection and Defense Institute. The IAVA course is currently offered in an online format due to COVID.

Identification and Explanation of Mitigation Strategies: This training teaches FDQIs how to identify and explain mitigation strategies for the actionable process steps. Implementing mitigation strategies is essential to prevent inside attackers from compromising food sources.

Preparing the Food Defense Plan: This training teaches FDQIs how to prepare a food defense plan including all of the required parts: vulnerability assessment, mitigation strategies, and management components.

Reanalysis: This training teaches FDQIs the requirements for reanalysis is required and how to determine when reanalysis should be conducted.

Become an FDQI with Alchemy Academy and FPDI

Alchemy Academy and the Food Protection and Defense Institute at the University of Minnesota offered a full solution for your FDQI certification needs. Begin with our Food Defense Manager course, where you’ll meet the IA rule training requirement for vulnerability assessment by key activity types, identification, and explanation of mitigation strategies, preparation of the food defense plan, and reanalysis. Instructor-led training for the three fundamental element vulnerability assessment (IAVA training), including hybrid assessment, is available through FPDI. With these elements at your disposal, you are well on your way to FDQI status!

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Listeria Prevention: Best Practices for Avoiding and Responding to Contamination

listeria

Food processors regulated by FDA must comply with The Food Safety Modernization Act’s Preventive Controls for Human foods regulation. This means performing a complete and thorough Hazard Analysis of the facility, ingredients, process, and products; defining necessary preventive controls for all identified hazards; drafting recall plans, and verifying as well as validating the implementation of those controls and plans. Ready-to-eat (RTE) food processors who regard food contamination by listeria as a potential hazard will also need to implement an environmental monitoring program (EMP), otherwise known as pathogen environmental monitoring as part of their sanitation controls. While this may seem like a lot to chew, with the appropriate background, training, and follow-through, your team can effectively prevent or navigate a foodborne illness outbreak from Listeria monocytogenes.

What is Listeria?

The genus Listeria includes biological pathogen species L. monocytogenes, L. innocua, and L. cornellensis. Each of these species flourishes in similar environments: cold, wet environments filled with nutrients. As you can imagine, this spells trouble for RTE processing areas, where we keep the environment cold to ensure product safety and, when processing begins, create wet and nutrient-filled areas. Hygiene and sanitation programs are the heart of Listeria contamination prevention. As such, environmental monitoring helps us safeguard against listeria contamination on the processing floor.  

What is Environmental Monitoring?

Environmental monitoring (EM) is a process used in facilities that produce ready-to-eat (RTE) foods to assess the effectiveness of a plant’s cleaning practices and frequencies. Environmental monitoring is a part of many different regulatory requirements. To put it simply, effective environmental monitoring programs are the best way to ensure you are keeping products, and thus consumers safe. EMPs take into account your Sanitation Program, Sanitary Design, Personnel Practices, Plant Zoning, and Testing Protocols. 

Typically, environmental monitoring programs consist of four primary steps for successful implementation. These are:

Step 1: Develop Sanitation Controls

Step 2: Perform a Risk Assessment

Step 3: Designate Hygienic Zoning Areas

Step 4: Implement and Manage Testing and Corrective Action Protocols

When it comes to listeria prevention, there are no greater defenses than a solid sanitation program and EMP. For a complete walkthrough of Environmental Monitoring Program best practices, consider Alchemy Academy’s online EMP training course. As Step 4 is implemented, it can be expected that positive environmental findings will occur. In these cases, corrective actions including intensified cleaning and expanded sampling should be implemented until the contamination is eradicated. 

Navigating A Listeria Outbreak

Should you be faced with a foodborne illness outbreak from listeria, you must have a well-documented crisis management plan and thorough crisis management training. A crisis plan for food safety incidents helps your organization’s key players know what actions to take once an incident occurs, from laying out proper sanitation protocols to interacting with regulatory bodies. These actions are taken in conjunction with implementing the Corrective Action  Procedures identified in the EMP.  While this plan goes beyond Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) and risk mitigation strategies, they are both integral parts of your food safety system. To ensure you are fully prepared for a foodborne illness outbreak, we created Food Safety Crisis Management Simulation. This one-of-a-kind simulator will help you understand the dynamic and multi-faceted decision-making process that arises in the face of a foodborne illness outbreak.

Conclusion

Listeria prevention begins and ends with good sanitation and environmental monitoring in your facility. Should listeria contamination occur, causing a foodborne illness outbreak and thus a recall, your operation must be prepared to respond with a crisis management plan in place. For more information on what to do during a listeria outbreak, click here.

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How to Improve Performance with Inclusive Leadership

leadership

Diversity is all around us. Whether we’re on the processing floor or resigned to watching television in our living rooms, inclusivity has risen to the forefront of the world stage. As such, companies have come to depend on diverse voices and capabilities as they seek success and competitive advantage. But simply having culturally diverse members in your organization isn’t enough. High performance and a healthy work environment are direct results of inclusive leadership. That is leadership that fosters a culture wherein everyone is treated with respect and fairness, feels a sense of belonging and value, and thus remain motivated and inspired.

A study on inclusive leadership in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Hong Kong tells us that teams with such leaders are 17% more likely to be high performing and 20% more likely to report they make high-quality decisions. In addition, inclusive leadership has been proven to decrease absenteeism and thus its associated costs.

Inclusive leaders exhibit six key traits that directly foster diversity in their organization. Rest assured, these characteristics go beyond what you might consider keys to effective leadership. This blog break downs each of these six behaviors and details how you can apply them, improving your approach to inclusive leadership today.

Six Characteristics of Inclusive Leadership

Commitment

Be vocal about your dedication to diversity. Fostering an inclusive and diverse work environment takes time and effort. Inclusive leaders find motivation here via a deep-rooted sense of commitment to their role and team. They know that cultivating space begins with and continually depends on their own buy-in. When you show a willingness to invest in people and inspire others, this demonstrates an unwavering commitment to your team.

Humility

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your personal limitations. Ask for help in overcoming them. Create space in your organization for team members to contribute to this end for the greater good of the organization.

Self-Awareness

We all have room to grow. The ability to recognize this in yourself, particularly your blind spots as they relate to inclusivity and diversity, is paramount to your success as an inclusive leader.

Willingness to Learn

Get to know the individuals on your team. Ask questions. Practice active listening without judgment, as this stifles communication and later ideas. Open-mindedness, attentiveness, and curiosity makes people feel valued and represented.

Cultural intelligence

We’re not talking about the intelligence you can find in a book here. Inclusive leadership demands you develop the ability to adapt in response to various cultural norms, both verbally and non-verbally. In addition, you should understand how your own cultural stereotypes may impact your actions, expectations, and influence on the people around you.

Expert collaborators

Effective collaboration cannot exist without a place where team members feel safe sharing their ideas and views. Leading inclusively means creating these spaces and empowering people to share freely. You want to foster a group identity with shared goals. Doing so ensures team members recognize and value their team’s unique knowledge and strengths.

Conclusion

As you begin to either incorporate these traits into your approach or improve upon them, remember to check your impact. How are you being perceived by those you lead? Can you see evidence of collaboration and openness within your team? Ask for candid feedback and adjust where necessary.

Looking for more? Alchemy Academy offers online inclusive leadership training to help you motivate and inspire your team. Read more about the Alchemy of Leadership to get started!

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Six Core Competencies of Leadership

leadership

Chances are you’re starting this year intent on making it your best year ever. Maybe you’ve resolved to lose 20 pounds, take up the banjo, or accomplish any other goal you’ve long dreamed of checking off. Achieving these personal goals is, as they say, “all you,” but how does the “best you” translate to the people you interact with every day? If your new year’s resolution is to improve your leadership skills, you’ve come to the right place.

In this blog, we’ll layout six core competencies of leadership, but don’t think they only apply to people at the top. Understanding these concepts helps us work together toward company success and the common good, boosting morale, lowering turnover, and increasing productivity.

Happy New Year, and let’s get started.

Integrity

An effective leader conducts themselves honestly and openly. Their words and actions are consistent. When it comes to others, leaders should practice courtesy, sensitivity, and respect. They’ll consider and respond appropriately to the concerns and feelings of the individuals on their team.

Values Diversity

The best leaders cultivate an inclusive workplace that values diversity and differences among their team. Leaders reap the benefit here, as these different viewpoints and voices help companies achieve and evolve their vision and mission. Hand in hand here is team building, inspiring high morale, commitment, spirit, pride, and most importantly, trust.

Accountability

Successful leadership holds themselves and the people around them accountable for high-quality and timely results. These leaders take responsibility for mistakes, are vocal about them, and comply with pre-established organizational policies.

Developing Others

The dedication to developing the abilities and skills of team members cannot be understated here. Giving your employees or peers opportunities to learn and grow through formal or informal instances, providing continuous feedback, and listening are key parts of this development.

Vision

True leaders think long-term and do so with a strategic, entrepreneurial mindset. They listen to those around them, craft a shared vision, and motivate team members to take this vision and turn it into action. They question the conventional approach, encourage new ideas, are eager to take calculated risks, and implement cutting-edge programs or processes.

Commitment to Learning

As a leader, you set the example. Assess and recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Continually pursue your own personal and professional development so that if you fail, you fail quickly, learn from each setback, and move forward.

Conclusion

As you may have guessed, these topics extend beyond our professional lives. When setting a goal to be a better leader, ask yourself, “why does being a better leader matter to you and your organization?”. These answers will help you expand on the six core competencies discussed here. For more tactical training, consider our Leading Teams and Supervising People courses.

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Food Safety Crisis Management Simulation: A New Way to Train

crisis management simulation

Around the world, food safety has transformed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the edge of a hopeful new year, crisis management planning has risen to the forefront of the food industry. Businesses know that a plan must be in a place that dictates how they will respond to critical situations that could negatively affect their credibility, profitability, and reputation. But is your organization’s plan fully outfitted for the multifaceted decisions that could arise should a foodborne illness outbreak occur within your facility? How can you ensure preparedness in your facility?

The answer? Food Safety Crisis Simulation. Created by Alchemy Academy and Produce Marketing Association (PMA), our new simulation is food safety training like you’ve never seen before. Putting the wheel in your hands, you’ll embody the role of a produce industry CEO, joining a cast of characters tasked with navigating the crucial decisions that arise along the foodborne illness outbreak timeline. In the end, you’ll learn how every decision made impacts the present and future of your company and its consumers.

Increased Immersion. Uncompromised Retention.

From current concerns to future forays, Food Safety Crisis Simulation builds off of Alchemy Academy’s trusted instructional expertise to provide players with a more immersive experience than you’ll find in a typical food safety training solution. The result? A deeper understanding of our industry-leading curriculum. Players learn how to work with various leadership roles within their facility and the food industry at large, not just by reading — but by doing. Through seven carefully crafted virtual scenarios, instructional feedback, and unfettered access to cutting-edge educational material, players hone their offline crisis management skills.

Engineered for Everyone

While Food Safety Crisis Management Simulation deals with a listeria outbreak, crisis management principles extend far beyond the produce industry. Our simulation serves up universal lessons effectively used by food manufacturing professionals across all sectors.

Game On

Take the first step toward evolving your crisis management plan simply by signing up. Crisis management can’t wait — embark on a new adventure with Alchemy Academy and PMA today!

Simulation Preview

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How Do I Become an SQF Practitioner

SQF Practitioner

Under the Safe Quality Food (SQF) Code, every SQF-certified company must appoint an SQF Practitioner. Your company designated you as their SQF Practitioner. But what does an SQF Practitioner do, and what are the requirements for becoming an official SQF Practitioner?

What is an SQF Practitioner?

The SQF Practitioner is responsible for monitoring the development and maintenance of their facility’s SQF Program. The SQF Program is a GFSI-recognized scheme of food safety and quality codes that help businesses set up, evaluate, and maintain a robust food safety management system. Successfully doing so – thus passing an audit – results in the title of “SQF-Certified” site and works to protect the brand, buyer, and bottom line.

How do I become an SQF Practitioner?

The SQF Practitioner must meet certain requirements. These include:

  • Be a full-time employee of the company
  • Successfully complete a HACCP-based certification training course
  • Implement and maintain Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs)
  • Understand the SQF Code, its requirements, and its relevance in your facility’s certification

Complete HACCP-Based Training

The SQF Code is a HACCP-based food safety and quality management system that makes use of HACCP principles. In order to facilitate a deeper understanding of the code, SQF requires all SQF Practitioners to complete a HACCP-based training course. As SQF’s official online training vendor, Alchemy offers courses designed to:

  • promote an understanding of the SQF Code.
  • create a knowledge base to facilitate the successful implementation of an SQF System.
  • show how a HACCP-based approach manages food safety and quality hazards in an operation.

To explore our HACCP training courses for SQF practitioners, click here.

Understanding GMPs and GAPs

Simply put, GMPs stands for Good Manufacturing Practices. GAPs stands for Good Agricultural Practices. These systems ensure your products are produced with minimal risk – keeping your employees and consumers safe. The SQF practitioner oversees the development, implementation, documentation, and review of GMPs and GAPs in their facility. This may include sanitation, cleanliness, equipment verification, process validation, and record keeping.

To meet SQF Edition 9 requirements, SQF certified sites will have to now designate a Substitute  Practitioner in addition to the Primary Practitioner. Serving in this role is a great way to begin learning the requirements for a Practitioner and growing in this position.

Mastering the SQF Code, Edition 9

Alchemy Academy and SQFI have teamed to offer a robust set of resources that dig deep on the particulars of SQF Edition 9. Coupled with HACCP-based training courses, our SQF Conversion Primer gets SQF practitioners up to speed on key changes to the code. Have questions? Get them answered in the upcoming installment of Academy Live. This virtual roundtable will be led by Jeff Chilton, who serves as Intertek Alchemy’s VP of Consulting as well as a Certified SQF Auditor and Consultant.

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Your Guide to HACCP Requirements Under SQF Edition 9

HACCP SQF

The Safe Quality Food Institute’s (SQFI) new code further bonds your SQF certification with Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) compliance. With audits beginning in 2021, does your team fully understand Edition 9 requirements? This blog will explore the relationship between the SQF Code, Edition 9, and HACCP and discuss the compliance requirements your site needs to meet for continued SQF certification.

HACCP

HACCP is a system that limits potential hazards in food production and its supply chain. HACCP methodology requires documented processes that adhere to internationally recognized standards of excellence. Companies rely on HACCP within and outside the US to prevent and mitigate biological, chemical, and physical hazards from production to consumption.

SQF Certification

The SQF Code is a process and product certification standard. It is a HACCP-based food safety and quality management system that utilizes the CODEX Alimentarius Commission HACCP principles and guidelines. The SQF Code is intended to support industry- or company-branded products and to offer benefits to sites and their customers. Products produced and manufactured in SQF-certified sites retain a high degree of acceptance in global markets. In order to obtain this certification, businesses must implement exhaustive food safety control systems and verifies these programs via third-party audits.

HACCP for SQF-Certified Sites

The SQF Code features an emphasis on the systematic application of HACCP for control of food safety hazards. Edition 9’s requirement for SQF-certified sites is two-fold. The first being that every site has a designated SQF Practitioner who has successfully completed a HACCP-based training course. As SQF’s official online training vendor, Alchemy offers courses designed to:

  • promote an understanding of the SQF Code.
  • create a knowledge base to facilitate the successful implementation of an SQF System.
  • show how a HACCP-based approach manages food safety and quality hazards in an operation.

To learn more about the SQF Implementing System Course, click here.

The second HACCP requirement dictates each facility create and deploy a HACCP-based Food Safety Plan as part of its SQF program. A Food Safety Plan is essentially your HACCP plan – or analysis of your food product and its production process by applying HACCP methods. This means that an FSP is required to ensure the safety of your products, which is not only a great benefit to your company and employees, but also to your business partners and consumers.

HACCP for food safety involves twelve crucial steps. These include:

Alchemy Academy Resources

Now that you’re familiar with HACCP for SQF-certified sites, it’s time to ensure you’re ready for a 2021 audit. As SQF’s exclusive online training vendor, Alchemy offers a robust library of HACCP and SQF resources to keep you and your site certified and safe. Our Basic HACCP and Implementing SQF Systems training bundle is a cost-effective solution for understanding HACCP principles and applying them to your SQF certification.

Still have questions about HACCP and the SQF Code, edition 9? Join our virtual roundtable, led by certified SQF Auditor and Consultant Jeff Chilton. You’ll have a chance to ask and discuss the Edition 9 questions that matter most to your business. Learn more and register today!

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2020 Review and 2021 Forecast: A Look Back and A Look Ahead

2020 Recap

The following entry comes from the desk of Intertek Alchemy’s own VP of Consulting, Jeff Chilton.

2020 in Review

Certainly, any plans for clear vision at the start of 2020 came to an abrupt end quickly. The year started with division and fighting regarding the impeachment process. It soon became evident the world faced a new major threat with Coronavirus. As an official pandemic was declared in March, things changed rapidly and dramatically. Economic volatility became rampant. Tens of thousands of people died while hundreds of thousands became infected. Fear and panic ensued. Life as we had always known it ceased to exist. Restaurants, movie theaters, churches, and places of common congregation closed. The vulnerabilities of the food industry, set in its primitive ways of design for decades, became glaringly evident contributing to the problem.

Caught in a catch-22 between being critical essential workers needed to produce products to keep grocery store shelves stocked while working in poorly designed plants that packed workers into production lines and break rooms like sardines, the food industry was hit hard with illnesses and deaths. Along with health care workers and truck drivers, food industry workers were hailed as heroes to keep the country fed and supplied while risking their own lives and those of their families. Food companies responded quickly to promote employee screening, masks, social distancing, installing partitions between workers, reinforcing handwashing, cleaning and sanitizing procedures, and COVID-19 testing. Production schedules and shifts were staggered to reduce people on site. It was the best that could be done in the short term but far from all that needs to be done long term. 

Companies realized their Crisis Management and Emergency Plans were woefully inadequate to address a pandemic threat of this magnitude. Sub-committees for Maintenance, Engineering, Operations, Sanitation, Human Resources, and others were formed to manage various aspects of the response. Companies spent hundreds of millions of dollars and countless hours to protect their workers, mitigate losses, and keep supply chains filled. One major food company reported spending $540 million this year during the pandemic for protective measures for employees and additional team member pay and benefits.

In addition to managing internally, the industry was routinely bombarded with new information almost daily from the CDC, OSHA, Trade Associations, WHO, and other sources recommending new requirements. OSHA mandated companies develop Infectious Diseases Preparedness and Response Plans as a new regulatory requirement. Companies had to learn new information, develop plans, and train their employees continually throughout the year.

Adaptability to change also became a major requirement even for the basic survival of companies and individuals. Food service sales to restaurants plummeted by more than 60% while demand for retail products at grocery stores increased proportionately. Companies had to adapt quickly to change products and packaging designs along with sales and marketing channels to evolve and survive. As individuals, we had to adapt to work from home positions where possible to limit exposure and risk.

The other major lesson learned for the food industry was a vulnerability in supply chains. Product shortages routinely occurred due to the inability of vendors to provide raw materials, transportation issues, and employee staffing shortages. Companies that relied on single suppliers were hit hardest. We quickly learned that greater depth is needed in our supply chains to have multiple vendors to source raw materials from and greater breadth throughout the supply chain.

Beyond the pandemic, 2020 was also a difficult and divisive year due to the presidential election and numerous high profile racial incidents that provoked violence and rioting. The high emotional toll of the pandemic, economic uncertainty, politics, and racism have been traumatic to many. No doubt, 2020 will be remembered as one of the most difficult and challenging years of our lifetime.

What’s on the horizon?

As we look ahead into 2021, there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the future. Fortunately, there is always hope on the horizon as well. The first quarter of 2021 will still definitely be difficult. As we now approach 300,000 deaths and 16 million cases in the US and 1.6 million deaths and 70 million cases worldwide, we know COVID-19 is not going away any time soon. The wide distribution of a vaccine starting in Q1 will be a big help. Healthcare workers and food industry workers will receive priority to receive the vaccine first. Hopefully, this will significantly reduce the number of cases and deaths. I will make a stern point that even a vaccine is not a silver bullet. There will always be another pandemic and potential mutation of COVID-19 that we have to be prepared for. The long-term work of plant redesign, supply chain improvements, and improved worker practices must continue full force.

The presidential inauguration in January will also bring significant change to the country, hopefully in a positive way. A transition to a democratic administration will undoubtedly bring greater regulatory requirements from numerous agencies that companies will have to deal with adding more costs and burdens to the industry. By the second half of 2021, things should start to stabilize to understand the current environment by then to begin growing and thriving again.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, my best advice and encouragement is to simply be a good human. Love, help, and support one another. For many, a change in value systems to emphasize the importance of family, health, and faith is by far the most important lesson learned this year. Do your part to do the best you can for your family, those within your circle of influence, and the world in general. We will get through this together and look forward to a brighter 2021 full of greater hope. Best wishes for a happy holiday season and a blessed New Year!

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Food Safety Crisis Management 101

Food Safety

In the latter half of 2020 alone, three multi-state foodborne illness outbreaks are sweeping the food industry. According to the CDC, 72 people have reported illness to date. In fact, since 2017, E. coli found in romaine lettuce has haunted the produce industry (particularly the leafy green industry), with multiple outbreaks occurring in the fall and winter each year.

Despite its ubiquity, many facilities are not prepared to handle foodborne illness outbreaks. Nevertheless, a full and accurate context of crisis management planning and proceedings is essential to deftly and successfully maneuver through a foodborne illness outbreak. Industry leadership juggling consumer demands for more convenient and higher quality products, complex supply chains, and government regulations may not fully understand the multifaceted decision-making process that arises during a potential foodborne illness outbreak.

A food safety crisis could lead to lost revenue, increased turnover, negative brand publicity, temporary closures, lost wages for staff, lawsuits, and more. Proper planning can help organizations avoid or lessen the impacts of a food crisis.

What is food safety crisis management?

A crisis plan for food safety incidents helps your organization’s key players know what actions to take once an incident occurs. While this plan goes beyond Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) and risk mitigation strategies, they are both integral parts of your food safety system.

Crisis management should include, but is not limited to:

  • Pinpoint possible crises, developing a plan of action for each
  • Identify those individuals who will manage the crisis and communicate this team of individuals to all employees
  • Define each step to be taken during a crisis, including how to communicate with media and interact with regulatory bodies
  • Train key players early and often
    Create a positive food safety culture across teams
  • Continually review your crisis plan to determine if updates or changes as needed

Resources for Preparing Your Crisis Management Plan

Alchemy Academy and Produce Marketing Association (PMA) have developed a new choose-your-adventure style crisis management simulation for produce industry professionals and beyond. Food Safety Crisis Management Simulation puts learners directly into the shoes of a produce industry CEO and President tasked with managing a foodborne illness outbreak in their facility. Participants build a new food safety knowledge base and have access to practical crisis management resources for their operation. Join the waitlist today!