How Do You Build a Food Safety Program?
No matter where you are in your food safety program journey, odds are it was built by you or a prior colleague. In either case, it is likely that your existing program will need to be modified as food safety regulations continue to change. To stay up-to-date on new or modified regulations, you may have gone to various food safety trainings such as HACCP, PCQI, SQF practitioner, and internal auditor have been useful in understanding how to build, modify, and maintain your program. While these pieces of training are useful, it is important to understand the core structure of your program in order to adapt and maintain its many components.
With that being said, let’s take a moment to really look at some of the potential building blocks of a quality program. This is by no means a comprehensive list, as your pyramid will look different depending on a variety of factors such as how big your company is or if you produce high or low risk food.
By definition, a foundation is a structure that supports a building from underneath or something that provides support for something1. Placing food safety culture as the foundation of this pyramid establishes strong base for which can support a robust food safety program.
Food safety culture encompasses ALL employees working with the product, including those in upper management that don’t necessarily interact directly but whose decisions affect what is being made. With everyone on the same page as to what the expectation is for them in their role to keep the product safe, create the foundation for other programs and policies to be supported. A company that ubiquitously embodies this mindset benefits from a team of employees that care for their role and the outcome it has for the final product. The job turns from a thing regarding ‘me’ to a piece regarding ‘we’.
The next four tiers of the pyramid include everything that is important to support and grow a food safety program.
The first two levels are the different programs and written plans that provide the framework for your food safety program. Employee training is included here because the education of individuals that are involved in the handling of food, helps strengthen your program. Together, the written programs and their support by employees provide the necessary structure to be able to have trackable documents.
The next two tiers are all about proving and validating what you are doing in your food safety program. All four of the blocks in these two rows are important because they enable you to prove where your ingredients come from, how they are processed, and who finished products are sold too. In other words you can trace everything that went into and happened to your product before during and after it has entered your facility. Traceability is extremely important, not only in the case of a process deviation or recall, but to tell the story of your products during an audit.
Beyond receiving all of these documents, you also have to have an organized way to search and find them in an effective manner. For example, showing traceability during a desk audit. You need to be able to find the correct document quickly and efficiently in front of the auditor. Traceability found among the middle tier blocks because it requires other programs to support it, but it also factors into others to make the pyramid stable.
The last two tiers of the pyramid consist of aspects that help to round out a food safety program. While the previous tiers are all of the hard building blocks, here the maintenance and improvement of the program is the focus.
This is achieved by monitoring what you are currently doing, taking corrective actions on any deviations, and undergoing audits (internal and external) for continuous improvement. These three blocks are interchangeable and go together to help maintain compliance and adapt to changes in policies.
This pyramid is by no means the end all be all for food safety programs. Your program may have a few additional blocks or arrange differently. It is important to remember that one is better than the other, but that different foods and processes result in different-looking pyramids. I hope this has given you some ideas on how the structure of your own food safety program. Are there blocks that require more support from below? Do you need to move some blocks around to make your pyramid stronger? Whatever present or future changes may happen to your program, please refer back to this example for assistance.