Food safety is more important than ever — and not following proper protocol can lead to lives lost, not to mention hurt profits, tarnished brands, and low consumer trust. The new SQF Fundamentals Code outlines 6 common causes of food safety hazards to watch out for and account for in your food safety plan. Learn how to spot if they apply to you, and how to implement a solution before you risk failing an audit, or worse, compromising consumers’ safety. For more on the new SQF Fundamentals Code, watch the full webinar with SQFI.
1. Eradicate Common Causes of Food Safety Hazards
Globally, the most common causes of foodborne illness include contaminated water, ingredients or raw materials —and not so much chemical risks like allergens, allergen cross- contamination, or physical hazards, like glass. These illnesses are almost always caused by microbial contamination largely due to contaminated water, ingredients and raw materials —the number one cause.
It’s important to know your water and water sources. How you can control water contamination is a necessary requirement in any food safety program. Need more evidence? Some of the romaine lettuce recalls in North America, as much as we can tell so far, were due to contaminated water in the water supply.
Cross-contamination between contaminated and uncontaminated product via hands and surface is also a common cause of foodborne illnesses. This is the cross-contamination that can happen during production. It’s important to always follow good manufacturing practices or growing practices, if you're a grower, and proper handling procedures.
Improperly cooked or handled products also contribute to foodborne illness. If your product goes to a cook, and it hasn’t been held at the right temperatures throughout the entire cook sequence, foodborne illness could result.
2. Implement Food Safety Plans
All good food safety programs need a documented food safety plan. This is the risk assessment of your process and your production methods. This is where you go through everything that you do, all of your activities, and identify the hazards that need to be controlled. Once the hazards are identified, you must control them through very clear monitoring and when things go wrong, corrective actions.
A food safety plan is a very systemic, systematic approach to looking at risks, and food safety programs need to have one in place. The SQF Fundamentals Program offers a very sequenced and logical way of implementing HACCP plans, not necessarily required in our basic program.
3. Monitor Your Suppliers
If you’re a manufacturer and you get anything from a finished project to a raw material, you have suppliers. What we found over the last number of years with recalls, especially recalls at SQF-certified sites, is that many recalls are caused by the suppliers. This means you can have all the necessary programs up and running within your own facility, but if your supplier screws up and they have a problem…then you're into a recall, too. Not good.
Having a solid program where you identify and only buy from approved suppliers, know the risks, and have ways to conduct reviews of these suppliers can all help to make sure you're getting what you're paying for. You want to make sure your suppliers are controlling the risks around food safety that you can't. For example, if you're buying ingredients from a fruit or vegetable grower, you can’t control many of the types of chemical hazards there; it's ultimately up to your supplier to control. Making sure your suppliers implement and follow good food safety programs ensures it doesn't become a problem for you in your marketplace.
4. Set Strict Personal Hygiene Standards
Personal hygiene is an integral part of any food safety program, and this stems from the health status, including medical screening of infectious disease and bodily fluids — which is basically, making sure people aren't sick when they're coming to work. Personal hygiene helps to prevent injuries and illnesses that can occur on the job, as well as outlines rules for personal cleanliness (including hand washing expectations), dictates which hand wash stations should be in place, and sets guidelines for personal behavior.
Personal hygiene also includes best practices around eating, chewing, drinking and even smoking. Having a good lunch space for people and an area for designated breaks, as well as controlling when and where visitors come and go, also has an impact on your food defense and hygiene, not just security. Including a thorough explanation of personal hygiene should be a part of any solid food safety program.
5. Adhere to Temperature Control When Needed
When applicable, temperature control is critical to preventing foodborne illness. If you have temperature control on either ingredients, cooking, or storage temperatures, it must be part of your food safety program. In terms of microbial control, this is regarding cooking food to the right temperatures and refrigeration if and when needed. If temperature is pertinent to your product, temperature control is an important part of a food safety.
6. Follow Proper Sanitation Methods
In terms of these food safety and sanitation, and housekeeping, it’s simple: we must keep our establishments clean. This means cleaning all the areas — not just the area where you're making product, but also lunchrooms, locker rooms, and toilet areas. The act of cleaning itself should also be accounted for, so you will need a cleaning program that includes a list of everything that needs to be cleaned, and cleaning SSOP's, (Standard Sanitation Operating Procedures). Conduct regular assessments to know whether your cleaning program is good enough. Has it been done properly? Is it doing what it's supposed to be doing?
As always, track all progress by keeping careful records for future reference.
Want more details on SQF Fundamentals Code? Watch the free webinar.