then you should pick another occupation.
Personally, I really enjoy traveling. It is in my DNA. My aunt managed a traveling circus tent show. I would join them during the summer months, work in the
concession stand, help with setup/takedown, and travel a portion of the country
for 2 months. We had a set schedule of towns we would visit and set up for 2 days,
perform six shows (three each day), take the tent down after the third show on the
second day, and drive all night to the next town. It could be hectic when the weather
didn’t cooperate, the trucks broke down, or some of the crew would disappear on
the way to the next location. The mantra was “The show must go on.” The idea being, the folks paid their money and we must fulfill our obligation to provide the
product, no matter the hardship.
Business travel to me isn’t really that different from the circus days. Most of my
assessments are scheduled by continent and require extensive scheduling. There are
challenges to overcome, and unless I am completely incapacitated, I am going to
show up. For example, while writing this article, I just completed the second week
of a 5-week European trip performing risk assessments at 10 supplier manufacturing
sites, involving nine hotels, six flights, and countless hours in a car or train.
In my opinion, to develop a successful FSVP, you must have a firm understand-
ing of the products, process, people, and procedures. The more you are informed
about the entire operation, the easier it becomes to speak or write cogently. Business
is about personal relationships, and the stronger the relationship, the better the busi-
ness. That means you must walk the factory floor. In the words of my good friend
Chuck Regan: “If you’re going to buy meat, you better have bloody boots, and if
you’re going to buy fish, you better stink.”
Our customers require the current third-party audit certificate and the portion
of the report that details the corrective actions. As an added component to the cor-
rective action list, we request the status of the corrective actions and the validation
study of the corrective actions’ effectiveness. It’s good to have corrective actions;
however, they are not so good if they don’t solve the issue. I highly recommend
augmenting your suppliers’ third-party audits with an additional annual visit to their
manufacturing location(s) to perform a targeted risk assessment based on your cus-
tomers’ product specification(s).
Clarification: I am not saying that audits do not add value to the FSVP equation;
however, as an FSVP practitioner, you must go to the location that produces the
product you import and experience it for yourself.
Third-party audits play an important role in program and procedure verification.
A skilled lead auditor can provide a valuable assessment of the overall effectiveness
of the food safety plan, management commitment, and physical condition of the
factory. I created a customized, risk-based assessment of each type of commodity we
import, based on the customers’ specifications and the inherent risk associated with
the commodity type.
Meeting Customer Requirements
If you want to meet your customer’s requirements, follow Dr. Rice’s rule: “
Realistic specifications, rigidly enforced.” Let’s expand on this. Sound easy? It can be
when you work with a supplier that understands its process capability. This is where
the relationship based on trust is essential. In my experience, we are presented with
two specifications: what the customer requires and what the supplier can offer.
Frequently, a supplier will generate a specification based on the parameters they con-
sistently meet, and then they widen the
upper and lower control limits to build
in excess process variation. Understand-
able, and in some cases, the range is
within the customer’s specification. In
some situations, the supplier may re-
quire assistance in understanding either
how to achieve the customer’s specifica-
tion or why the parameters are in place.
As an example, I had been working with
European suppliers about Listeria spp.
specification differences between their
market and the U.S. market. Progress
was slow until the European market
recalls for individually quick-frozen
(IQF) vegetables hit, and then the con-
versation changed from why should they
comply to how can they comply.
There is a component within a food
industry business that is not discussed
to the extent I believe it should be.
Food safety professionals play a vital
role in the development of new business
and maintenance of existing business,
and should be recognized for doing so.
I am truly blessed to work for an organization that recognizes the importance
of my contribution to the business, and
I reciprocate by doing everything I can
to mitigate risk and promote the programs that we need to execute. While
discussing what my role in the organization would entail, I proposed that we
needed to make a bold statement that
food safety was at the forefront of the
operation. That is why my official title
is Chief Food Safety Officer. We wanted
our customers and suppliers to know
what our focus is and how we would act
The Importance of Preventive
Food safety requirements are not
getting easier because regulatory compliance and product liability are driving
the demand for tighter product specifications. Processes that were partially
ignored previously are coming under
scrutiny for their contribution to risk
mitigation. As the demand for reductions in pathogenic organisms increases,
we are challenged to utilize existing processes to perform a lethality step that we
FOREIGN SUPPLIER VERIFICATION
“Third-party audits play an important role in
program and procedure verification.”