There is no substitute for a systematic "one step at a time" approach for building a successful company food safety program, according to Jeff Mitchell, IFCO Director, Global Food Safety.
Here are his 7 methodical steps to establish or reinforce a successful food safety program. Mitchell stresses the importance of evidence-based decision making and he cautions that these steps must be undertaken in sequence to achieve the desired result.
This initial step involves identifying food safety hazards, their severity of risk, and critical control points. Food safety hazards can include biological, chemical or physical hazards.
Once risks have been assessed, a program must be established which spells out how the risks will be controlled, including documentation, training requirements, and the establishment of critical monitoring points. Simply put, a critical control point is a point, step or procedure at which controls can be applied to eliminate a food safety hazard or reduce it to an acceptable level.
"Any time you have controls in place, you have to validate that they work," Mitchell explained. "A lot of people will forget to do that. You validate your control points and your food safety program to make sure they work, and that they reduce the risk as intended."
The people who are performing the processes to the standards that have been written and validated must be trained. They must learn how to perform the procedures, the critical measurements required, and what corrective actions may be needed.
"After training comes execution," Mitchell continued. "Now the employees have to execute to the established standards. They monitor limits, they execute the process, and they do it in accordance with the food safety plan."
The verification process is in place to make sure that the food safety plan is meeting its objectives. "In the food safety world there are two ways of verifying your process," Mitchell said. One of these approaches is environmental monitoring. It involves swabbing surfaces using a zonal approach and performing laboratory analysis to ensure that bacterial levels are acceptable. The other way to verify your food safety plan is through third-party inspections. "A third party comes in, and they take a snapshot," Mitchell explained. "They look at your standards, and they audit your standards to make sure that people are executing to those standards and are documenting their results properly."
Documentation provides a record that all necessary actions have taken place following the food safety plan, including the steps listed above, starting with risk assessment and finishing with verification. Documentation ensures that the operation has a record of its process to prove it is within safe limits. It also provides the basis for supplier verification.