5 keys to a rigorous food safety system
Food safety has long been an essential ingredient for food processors, manufacturers and wholesalers committed to providing high quality products and growing their business.
Now, the federal government has introduced regulations that require most food companies to meet high safety standards to obtain a licence from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The Safe Food for Canadians Regulations apply to food businesses that import food, and/or prepare food for export or interprovincial trade. The regulations, which cover companies with over $100,000 in annual revenue, came into force in January 2019 for dairy, eggs, processed fruits and vegetable products, fish, meat, honey, and maple products. On July 15, 2020, they will come into effect for additives, alcoholic beverages, and all other foods.
To be licensed, companies must have a rigorous food safety program in place based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) methodology, says Rowda Mohamud, a BDC Business Advisor who guides companies on obtaining food safety certifications.
A key focus for food retailers
Mohamud says it’s not just the government that is demanding high standards. Many food manufacturers and retailers will not partner with your company if it doesn’t have a HACCP-based program.
“No retailer wants to put a product on their shelves that isn’t backed up by a rigorous approach to food safety,” says Mohamud, who advises entrepreneurs in the Toronto area.
Depending on your business, there can be dozens of criteria to be analyzed for conformity with food safety standards, ranging from worker attire to food handling procedures to the condition of your facility, and much more. Mohamud highlighted five critical points in introducing a food safety program to your food business.
1. Your facility
The condition of your building and equipment will be an important focus in bringing your company up to standard. “The facility needs to be easy to clean and easy to maintain, so you can’t have, for example, damaged floors and walls because they can harbour contaminants,” Mohamud says.
Updating your facility is generally the most expensive part of the process and will require a complete assessment of your workplace. The following are a few examples of things to consider:
- Are your equipment and work surfaces well-maintained, made of food-grade materials, and easy to clean to prevent contamination?
- Do you have the right number of drains and hand-wash stations and are they properly located?
- Do you have the right kind of lighting for your facility?
2. The flow of people, materials and waste
An important goal of a food safety program is to prevent cross contamination—the unintentional transfer of biological, chemical or physical hazards. To help prevent this, the movement of people, material and waste in a facility must be carefully controlled. Among other things, the plant has to be laid out to allow for the segregation of activities and materials and ensure safe workflow.
3. Employee training
Employees are on the frontlines of maintaining good food safety practices in your plant. They must understand the principles on which your food safety program is based and their duties and responsibilities within it. These range from proper hygiene and wearing proper attire to following food handling procedures, performing sanitation duties and respecting the segregation of work zones.
“Do they understand the different risks that are possible within the facility?” Mohamud asks. “Do they understand the possible risks with the product itself? For example, why food needs to be cooled down to a particular temperature at a particular rate?”
4. Monitoring and record-keeping
It’s essential to monitor your production to ensure you are controlling hazards and taking corrective actions when necessary. Monitoring also provides data for keeping detailed record-keeping. Daily documentation of procedures, deviations from limits and corrective actions provides the information you need to improve performance and demonstrate to outside parties that you are operating a safe facility. It is also important to have someone in the facility verify that the procedures were followed thoroughly, and that the documentation is in fact accurate.
5. Management commitment
Change is hard in any workplace and requires the steadfast commitment of management to achieve success. That commitment is particularly important in implementing a food safety program because the stakes are so high, Mohamud says.
“Your production people are not going to go through the trouble of following all these procedures and protocols if management is not supporting it,” she says. “You have to give the leadership and guidance that says: ‘Hey, this matter. We care about our customers. We have to have a safe, high-quality product.’”
Mohumud says entrepreneurs shouldn’t underestimate the amount of time, effort and investment required to make a business ready for certification. It will depend on the current state of your plant but can typically takes six months and sometimes a year or more.
However, a food safety program is not only important for meeting regulatory requirements but positioning your company for future growth.
“In this day and age, you simply cannot just ignore this and hope for the best. You have to have a standardized approach to safety.”