Food Safety: Validating safety in your plant

March 28, 2003
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Workers must look closely at how proposed changes will affect operations, especially where food safety is concerned.

Many years ago in the movie “Annie Hall,” Woody Allen described a relationship as “being like a shark.” Like the shark, a relationship must keep moving forward in order to survive. If a shark does not swim, it sinks to the bottom and dies. The same holds true for food processors. Acceptance of the status quo is a sure formula for failure.

Recently I had the opportunity to escort a group of meat processors from Mongolia through a number of meat processing operations in California. They were amazed at the efficiency in these plants. The visiting group had ten employees performing a set of tasks that was being done by three or four people in the plants they toured. And those same three to four people did things more quickly and got more product out the door.

Change is essential for a healthy operation. The last thing a plant manager wants to here is, “We’ve been doing things like this for 20 years. Why should we bother to change?” But change must be implemented for the right reasons. In the food industry that is usually greater efficiencies and lower costs, or in today’s environment, to assure a safe and wholesome food supply.

Whenever changes in a food processing operation are contemplated, operators need to take a close look at how the proposed changes will affect their operation, especially where food safety is concerned. The sixth principle of HACCP is verification and its basic goal is to assure that the HACCP system is working as designed. It also calls for processors operating under a HACCP plan to evaluate the effect of any change to that operation on the HACCP plan. That is basic good sense. Whenever a change to the plant is contemplated, that change, however small, could compromise safety.

The root cause of most foodborne illness is often a breakdown in plant sanitation, and changes to operations can have profound and often devastating effects on this basic prerequisite program.

For example, if a construction project is planned, all involved must assure changes in operations due to the construction project do not adversely affect safety. Listeria contamination resulting from construction operations has been cited as a cause of one of the largest recalls of processed meats in recent history.

Ramping up production to meet larger orders is good for business, but food companies must make the effort to build in adequate controls to address potential safety and sanitation issues stemming from increased production.

A contributory cause of an outbreak caused by a juice product may have been the company’s failure to add more sorters. The additional staff employed may have been able to remove suspect fruit.

Change is essential for building your business. But possibly even more important is assuring that the changes are done in an orderly and controlled fashion.

If your company is operating under a HACCP system, your HACCP team, which should be a multidisciplinary group, should review any proposed changes and develop an implementation plan to assure that the new system does not adversely affect operations. Then the HACCP team needs to evaluate the system after the changes have been made. In other words, verify that the HACCP plan and the food being produced are safe. If you are not yet operating under a HACCP plan, take this approach anyway. It is simply good business.

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