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Calling all Food Directors – are you REALLY managing your risks?

I have been in the food industry for a long time but I have to say that 2018 has been unprecedented when it comes to all the scares and shock waves we have experienced, writes Wouter Conradie, MD of Africa operations at NSF.

As the C suite executive responsible for a national certification body, I have the privilege of working with some of cream-of-the crop food companies in South Africa. To all my C suite colleagues and clients, my advice is that NOW is a good time to investigate if your house is still in order.

It’s time for a frank self audit

Although you may be reliant on your certification body to ask all the audit questions, my advice is that you should conduct a thorough and honest self assessment of your food safety management system.

Here are some fundamental questions to ask in order to identify if there are areas of risk in your organisation which have been overlooked and these are not the typical food safety audit questions:

Ask yourself this…

  • Have you identified the critical factors that contribute to your product loss risk?
  • When did you last did you conduct a full and rigorous assessment of your suppliers’ allergen management programmes, policies, procedures and verification systems? And not just using a supplier questionnaire but with on-site observations and reviewing records. Do you have the technical capability in the organisation to do this effectively?
  • Have you recently assessed how your facility prevents physical, chemical, microbial or allergen contamination? And not considering the budget constraints but honestly assessing where you may be exposed.
  • Have you conducted an on-site assessment of your suppliers’ food defense programme to ensure there are controls in place to protect what you buy from them from sabotage? What are your controls like?
  • What structures do you have in place to track the progress of product recall or other aspects of product incident management as circumstances dictate? Do you have access to live data or is this a paper nightmare?
  • Have you ever done a deep dive into all elements of your product traceability, crisis management and recall programs, even as far as conducting a mock recall? What about your suppliers?
  • When last did you hold an intervention to equip your staff on the strengths of effective recall teams, the elements of a workable recall management plan and effective communication techniques so that you can ensure the rapid removal of product from the marketplace in the event of a recall?
  • Have you gone looked at risk modelling and assessment of ingredient and material suppliers, which take into account geographic, socio-political and intrinsic elements? Where are you exposed to food safety issues and food adulteration?

We cannot delegate the responsibility

2018 has proven just how necessary it is for food business leadership to consider their risks and work proactively to mitigate those risks.

You need to not only strengthen your systems systems, but also make sure your team is ready to handle whatever crisis they may have to face – even the unthinkable ones. 

We have seen that the real risk is not only reputational damage, but also innocent loss of life. The responsibility falls to us as senior executives to exercise due diligence and governance in our management of the business to ensure that never happens on our watch.

They will follow our lead – we have to set the right example so that food safety is part of “business as usual”.

Source: NSF via

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