SQF Supports Food Safety Culture within Companies

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SQF Supports Food Safety Culture within Companies

By Robert Garfield - 05/15/2014

The Safe Quality Food Institute (SQF) continues to strive to be the leaders in food safety along the supply chain. Recent changes to our program include a mandatory, unannounced audit protocol, the addition of a broker module and clarification to code elements and terms used in the SQF Code. To SQF, these program changes reflect critical self-evaluation steps that will afford us renewed credibility to our stakeholders, including food retailers, government officials and consumer groups.

A recent Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) efficacy study found that about 70 percent of those who perform GFSI audits, inclusive of SQF, say it is to satisfy their customer, and only about 15 percent say it is to improve food safety management. Those numbers have not improved in the past three years. Our long-term goal aims to reverse this trend and create a food safety management culture within facilities.

SQF continues to reinvent itself in order to align with the food safety culture within companies. This year, SQF published the protocol regarding unannounced audits for public comment and accepted feedback from our stakeholders, adding a provision for the facility and the certifying body to determine which year they will perform an unannounced audit. We made the decision to enhance the rigor of the SQF program after consulting with numerous stakeholders; we understand that the food industry must respond to and meet the nation's food safety challenges more rapidly and effectively, which requires a more nimble approach to our program. Therefore, by July 2014, SQF's unannounced audit protocol will be implemented and require one out of every three SQF audits to be unannounced.

Although many stakeholders, such as governments and consumer organizations, recognize the efficacy of the SQF food safety management program, unannounced audits will elevate the SQF Program to the next level by providing a standard that will prepare SQF-certified suppliers to be audit-ready at any time. We believe that each facility must be prepared every day for an assessment. Moreover, in my discussions with FDA and other stakeholders, they indicated that the Achilles heel of our program was that "[facilities] know when you're coming."

Our decision is also compliant with the most sweeping regulatory rules in the last 40 years, the Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA. FDA's Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) proposal under FSMA requires "unannounced regulatory audits." We have not seen what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans for domestic suppliers; however, there exists a strong culture within FDA for unannounced interventions, so we suspect that FDA will consider a domestic proposal.

Still, the adoption of unannounced audits is on a slow gradient. As an example, Walmart has instituted a pilot program in the United Kingdom that stipulates that all of their suppliers must move to unannounced audits–in total. According to Walmart, this pilot test will determine how they proceed globally.

We're committed to unremitting improvement of our program and for leading in global food safety assessment standards practices. Today's societal culture demands transparency, trust and validation in the food supply, which is why SQF will continue to inspire a new food safety culture.

For more information, please contact Robert Garfield, senior vice president, SQFI, at [email protected].

Total Store Collaboration

FMI Industry Collaboration Initiative Slated to Advance Supply Chain

by Mark W. Baum

Collaboration is a term that the industry often uses to convey collective selling power and a streamlined supply chain. While our food retail industry has executed programs and tactics well over the years, a recent survey of FMI members and associate members revealed that the existing forums that are focused on industry collaboration between retailers and suppliers are not as effective as they could be. The good news was that the survey identified FMI as the most capable association to take on a leadership role, which led us to develop an initiative under our strategic plan we call "Total Store Collaboration."

This wall-to-wall coalition of retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and service providers will provide a unique vehicle for change throughout the industry. The Total Store Collaboration platform is: a forum to identify, address, and resolve issues facing the industry as a whole; a representative group of leaders and practitioners working together, leveraging deep industry expertise to support the most pressing and impactful initiatives; and a platform to plan and execute industry-changing ideas that create win-win opportunities for retailers and their trading partners.

TSC will allow us to deepen support for current initiatives, including:

  • Rapid Recall Exchange's standard electronic product recall system;
  • Facts Up Front: Clear nutrition information labeling on the front of packaging;
  • Next-gen product identification: Item-specific coding and implementation of updated carrier symbology to improve the current barcode standard; and
  • Brand protection: Identifying best-in-class methods of intellectual property protection to prevent brand degradation.

Total Store Collaboration will also enable us to align around industry issues, which will be shared at joint education conferences. For example, we'll be able to showcase insights and tools within supply chain to enable enhanced trading partner collaboration and innovation at the Supply Chain Conference. And notably, we'll leverage current strengths and expand capabilities and initiatives across all categories, including fresh, private brands, general merchandise, health & beauty care and pharmacy.

It's time again for a broad-based industry collaboration initiative that advances the industry. This year, our focus is on establishing the infrastructure and broadening our engagement through our industry's trade associations and a representative group of retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and service providers. In 2015, we'll focus on building momentum around selected priority issues and, by achieving bigger positive results, we'll see the real value unlocked in 2016 and beyond. Our goals are nothing short of making a significant, lasting impact on the industry as a whole. Our initiatives and outcomes will be designed to deliver real value to all trading partners, while providing a role for participating companies to create and implement large-scale industry transformation.

For more information, please contact Mark Baum, senior vice president and chief collaboration officer, at [email protected].