IFS Blog

The Value of Food Safety Standardization in a Company Environment

by Ed Hughes, International Paper 

Making the leap in the packaging industry from standard GMP audits to a GFSI recognized certification can be a resource intensive endeavor. Most experts will tell you it takes six months to a year to prepare for the initial audit. Multiply that in a company environment by 5, 10 or 20 locations and the amount of resources required becomes unfathomable.

In many packaging industry segments multiple locations have similar if not identical processes, machinery, raw materials, etc. When these similarities exist resource requirements can be greatly reduced through a standardized approach to food safety processes and audit programs. Economies of scale can be realized by centrally defining food safety processes that are applicable across many locations and providing models for processes or documentation that require limited local modification.

It's paramount to first choose a GFSI recognized audit standard that aligns well with your organization, manufacturing processes, and customer base. The ability to focus on a single audit standard for multiple locations provides numerous benefits:
  • Single point alignment with supporting company departments
  • Consolidation of information
  • Consistency across multiple locations
  • Seamless succession / transition of personnel

Standardizing common food safety processes also provides numerous benefits. When documentation is controlled above the facility level, local personnel have the opportunity to focus on execution.
HACCP models can be developed that address all common risks to food safety, allowing increased focus on site specific issues. Accelerated buy-in at the local level occurs from the leadership, assistance and resources that are provided. Most importantly, the amount of resources required to prepare for the initial audit are greatly reduced.

Customers also benefit from a standardized approach, as they can be assured of consistent products from all locations.

A standardized approach can also increase the effectiveness of the audit process. With multiple sites being audited there is an opportunity to form a small pool of auditors that come to understand your standard processes very well. At this point in time, the auditors have the chance to focus on your execution. That is the point at which the audits are truly beneficial and provide exceptional value from a continuous improvement perspective.

This strategy will not benefit every organization, but when multiple facilities have similar processes the strategy will allow faster deployment on a larger scale.

The Year between two Audits 

The When the IFS PACsecure audit is over and certification was successful, all the work and preparation have paid off. The company and all employees can be proud of the achievement. Now the challenge is to maintain the status and to improve the processes. In most cases this requires

  • To reject the usual routine that lead to deviations,
  • To work according to the described processes and the rules set by yourself,
  • Constant documentation,
  • Permanent monitoring,
  • Implementation of corrective actions.

The following hints can help to maintain achieved status and to improve for the next audit.

Re-describe processes
When processes work make sure they are described exactly as they are executed in daily business. Otherwise, when exceptions occur this normally means the process requires reorganization. Describe shortly and use flow charts. Involve the respective employees and ask how they perform their work and where they see weak spots and exceptions. Depending on the changes, adapt the processes and re-train. Remember that change is a part of a living quality system.

Keep the changes
Sometimes it takes time for employees to follow adapted procedures. "We are doing it this way for years, why is it wrong now?" can be a typical complaint. The following analogy may invalidate the complaint: There are only very few companies who can operate effectively and market-orientated solely relying on production technology which is 15 years old. The same applies on the processes in the company. The IFS PACsecure system allows adaption to your needs and to develop improved procedures.

Plan trainings
Employees must be trained according to their needs and also prove their knowledge regarding their responsibilities during the audit. Therefore determine training requirements and plan necessary trainings well in advance.

Define objectives
Setting objectives for employees or departments individually helps to involve all staff in the improvement process. Tangible goals will support employees to contribute in the quality improvement
process and to understand their responsibility.

Most seen deviations 

The requirements of IFS PACsecure are designed to examine the processes of all types of packaging manufacturing. Looking at the bigger picture of the audits performed so far, whether in plastic, paper, metal or glass manufacturing, certain patterns become apparent. Some requirements are frequently rated with deviations. For example one of the requirements on glass breakage:

4.12.8 - All stationary objects made of or incorporating glass or brittle material present in areas of handling of raw materials, converting, wrapping and storage shall be listed in a specific register, including details of their exact location. An assessment of the condition of objects on the register shall be performed on a regular basis and recorded. Frequency of this check shall be justified by documents.

Most seen deviations of the last audits were, for example:

  • Inventory not made, nor audits of condition of what is in the plant,
  • Glass and brittle plastic inspection records are not available,
  • Fire alarms with glass are not listed in the glass/ hard plastic register. The number of lamps is not mentioned in the register,
  • List of glass and brittle materials available, but the condition of the glass and plastic items was not verified,
  • Some glass items are not included in the list as manometer located on each machine. The list doesn't include brittle material (acrylic glass). Frequency of monthly inspection is not justified by documents. No proof that stationary objects in glass or brittle plastic are checked.

Glass and brittle material may end up on or in the packaging product as a foreign material. They constitute a hazard and can cause injury. The detection of foreign material from glass and rigid plastic may be costly and extensive in many cases. Therefore the focus is on preventive measures.

According to the requirement a complete list of all glass and brittle objects shall be made. Understandably there are objects which can easily be overlooked, such as manometers or safety covers of fire alarm buttons.

Auditors will check if the glass register is complete and includes the location of the objects. Furthermore, it must be clear if checks are performed regularly. The company shall provide evidence (records) indicating what, how, how often and who performs the checks of the condition, and how defects are handled.

What can be done?

  • Record exactly where glass and brittle material is located (room, line…),
  • Specify how often the glass register shall be checked,
  • Create a checklist and review the condition of the objects,
  • Photos and descriptions might help to record cracks and damages. They also help to track changes of the condition,
  • Cross check with final product control and complaints,
  • Consider the checklist when revising the HACCP system. 

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