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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, February/March 2012

GFSI Compliance and the Integrated Management System

Create a holistic, harmonized solution for the enterprise

by Brenda Percy

The GFSI food safety standards have become so prevalent in the food and beverage industry that many major food chain stakeholders will only maintain a relationship with suppliers who are GFSI compliant. The standards serve as a “quality stamp” for these stakeholders. They are often the sign of a supplier who has made it a priority to incorporate quality initiatives into its processes, ensuring a product that is of the highest caliber of safety and quality.

The evolution of technology has also greatly changed the face of the food and beverage industry. Automation has made processes more streamlined, decreasing human error and increasing environmentally friendly business practices as the need for paper lessens. Technology has also led to an increase in integration. Processes are no longer siloed, essentially cut off from all other processes.

Technology can streamline compliance with GFSI; integration is the key to maintaining quality and achieving harmonization across the scope of an organization.

Integrated Management

Today, when it comes to food safety systems, point solutions are often used. These types of systems were typically put into place separately over time and implemented whenever the need arose, a strategy that resulted in a variety of systems, such as corrective and preventive action (CAPA), document control, and employee training, each put in place within one organization yet running independently of each other. These separate systems raised a number of challenges that an integrated system could solve. For example, siloed compliance initiatives leave the organization with limited communication and visibility, because the systems are not linked. An integrated system lets the user consolidate multiple requirements into one source, providing enhanced visibility and improved communication and eliminating the worry of duplicate data.

Reporting overlap is another challenge alleviated by an integrated system. Siloed systems may overlap in their reporting of critical safety data, because so many similar issues are being reported in each system. An integrated system consolidates the data into one report, which makes it easier to review and trend on data.

Finally, a multitude of systems often results in the need for employees to train on more than one system to complete their tasks. An integrated system saves time and enhances productivity tenfold, because employees are using and training on only one system.

Ultimately, it helps to think in terms of integrating processes. Let’s see why this approach to integration can be beneficial to the organization.

Process-Based Approach

Applying a process-based approach when integrating systems is useful because the end user has a say in which processes are consolidated. For example, the processes that are used most often and make the most sense to integrate are those that will be consolidated. System users are the focus, and the goal is to use fewer systems to get the job done.

Taking a process-based approach results in a centralized, harmonized process in which all tasks can be completed in one system. In a siloed system, employees would have to use different systems for tasks that could be combined into just one holistic management system. An integrated system allows them to do everything in one location, eliminating the need to jump from system to system. Let’s take the example of CAPA. Using an integrated system, a CAPA could be launched for the employee.

Additionally, all HACCP, supply chain, and risk process tasks will be a part of one total system, able to communicate with each other. The system is thus enhanced exponentially, because the processes can communicate, sharing relevant data and avoiding the need to duplicate work in both systems when these tasks can be completed in just one.

Other benefits an organization will realize by integrating management systems include:

  • Trending: An organization will have better visibility into how one event can affect other areas of the enterprise. This allows trending across the enterprise and can enable a holistic report to identify points that require change throughout the organization.
  • Ease of compliance with multiple standards: Compliance with multiple standards becomes easier because various requirements are consolidated into a single source, enhancing visibility.
  • Scalability: A challenge faced with point solutions is that each facility has its own set of solutions. The difficulty lies in making these various point solutions interact with each other. An integrated, holistic system allows for a common standardized solution that is scalable and effective across the enterprise, regardless of whether the event stems from safety, quality, inspection, environment, or any other discipline. In a point solution, the user would have had to jump from system to system depending on the discipline the event derived from.

Organizations may suffer from “data paralysis”—so much information is coming in, the company doesn’t know where to begin. How does an organization begin to sort through the data and adverse events to find those most critical to the business? The company needs to prioritize and filter these events using a systematic and quantitative method.

One common system provides the best of both worlds—users have access to the information they need, and the enterprise has visibility into all data across every process and operational area. However, this increase in visibility may bring its own challenges.

Conquer Data Paralysis

With newfound visibility into all events, data from all multiple point solutions are now being fed through a single system. As a result, the organization may suffer from “data paralysis”—so much information is coming in, the company doesn’t know where to begin. How does an organization begin to sort through the data and adverse events to find those most critical to the business? The company needs to prioritize and filter these events using a systematic and quantitative method.

  • Quantitative risk tools as a filtering agent: CAPA—the heart of a holistic food safety management system (FSMS)—allows an organization to take action on adverse events in the system. However, with a much wider range of visibility into data, the ability to distinguish critical from non-critical adverse events becomes a challenge. Quantitative risk management is the key to effectively categorizing and filtering this information. Quantitative risk management enables an organization to give an adverse event a risk ranking using quantitative scales like severity and frequency.

This provides a systematic and repeatable method for determining how critical an event is. Traditionally, any event becomes a corrective action that results in a multitude of CAPAs with various levels of severity. The most critical events are essentially lost in the pile, like “needles in a haystack.” Quantitative risk tools essentially filter the needles from the haystack, enabling organizations to correct minor events immediately and focus their attention on those most critical to the business. Only the most critical adverse events will become CAPAs, effectively reducing data paralysis in the system to some extent.

In an integrated system where all quality and safety data are visible, risk assessment is a valuable tool in helping organizations categorize and prioritize events. It fosters better decision-making and streamlines the process by focusing on events that pose the most risk to the organization.

While filtering events in an integrated system helps to reduce data paralysis, not having an enterprise reporting system in place can hinder the organization’s ability to view and analyze the data coming into the system.

  • Enterprise reporting: Enterprise reporting is helpful in overcoming data paralysis because it consolidates data into a single environment, a centralized location within the integrated system. This makes it possible for an organization to more effectively draw correlations between events across the enterprise, which promotes efficient trending and continuous improvement. Using enterprise reporting, an organization can increase data visibility by receiving it in a more manageable format, making the information easier to digest and decreasing the chances of data paralysis.

There is no need to audit five times for five different systems. Using a process-based approach to audit management, an organization can conduct just one audit for CAPA that will apply throughout all systems, eliminating the need to run a duplicate CAPA audit for each and every system.

Beyond visibility, enterprise reporting allows an organization to roll up data from various systems into one holistic report. This not only decreases the number of reports that will need to be generated, but it also ensures efficient analysis and decision-making.

Another benefit to reporting is easier detection of trends. Trending enables an organization to uncover similarities between events that occur in separate sites or departments, which allows the root cause of the issue to be pinpointed. The organization can then take preventive measures to prevent adverse events from recurring.

Visibility is important to an organization, as is the need to maintain processes on a continual basis. Upholding processes and procedures ensures that a firm’s integrated system is kept in sync.

Food Safety Governance

In an integrated system, certain elements will likely overlap each other, so maintaining a cohesive and continuous process can be a challenge. Whether it’s an overlapping process, changing management to adapt to the use of an integrated system, or training employees to use the system, it’s important to govern the system through continuous monitoring and periodic review. The most logical way for most companies to manage governance is through auditing. Using an integrated audit program enables an organization to monitor and continuously improve its management system processes through regularly scheduled audits.

Much like the systems it governs, an audit management system must also be integrated so that, instead of auditing just the specific system elements, an organization can audit the processes to better eliminate overlap. Take CAPA, for example. This is a common element present in many systems. However, there is no need to audit five times for five different systems. Using a process-based approach to audit management, an organization can conduct just one audit for CAPA that will apply throughout all systems, eliminating the need to run a duplicate CAPA audit for each and every system.

While integrating an audit program is important to ensuring compliance throughout the system, it is beneficial for an organization to integrate supplier audits as well. A supplier is essentially an extension of the brand owner, and if a product fails to meet quality standards, it is often the brand owner that must incur any resulting liability.

To mitigate this risk, the integrated FSMS can schedule and execute continuous supplier audits. Much like an internal auditing program, integrating supplier audits will ensure that all agreed-upon procedures and practices are being followed exactly, promoting excellence and compliance in supplier performance. By incorporating an auditing program to extend to the supply chain, an organization is able to review each supplier’s efficiency and gain visibility into quality and safety in the supply chain. As a result, audit findings can contribute to a supplier’s overall safety score and affect the supplier rating, providing a better gauge of supplier performance.

This ability to ensure compliance beyond an internal scope is important; however, audit management is not the only aspect of an integrated system that extends to suppliers.

Looking Ahead

Suppliers can be considered the backbone of the food and beverage industry. With GFSI and other initiatives putting even stronger emphasis on high quality products, the ability to ensure that a supplier is providing the highest quality for the organization becomes essential. To do this, it is beneficial for an organization to integrate suppliers into their existing safety processes. The goal of supplier management is to keep information secure while letting suppliers participate in the process. Using integration tools, an organization can facilitate supplier interaction in the process while built-in security tools limit the level of interaction to those areas relevant to the supplier. Allowing suppliers this level of visibility lets them participate in the process by feeding information directly into the management system. This reduces the time it takes to note and correct quality issues in the supply chain. Similarly, security tools help to protect information that must stay within an organization’s four walls.

An organization must integrate the best practices associated with business processes in order to effectively bring the supply chain into the FSMS. These include:

Using integration tools, an organization can facilitate supplier interaction while built-in security tools limit the level of interaction to those areas relevant to the supplier. Allowing suppliers this level of visibility lets them participate in the process by feeding information directly into the management system.

  • Specification management: Part of integrating the supply chain is ensuring that the right materials are managed within products. Specification management helps to organize and manage consistency in products. Using a master bill of materials, organizations can manage the raw materials, ingredients, and packaging types for a product line, as well as identify any overlap from one product to the next. This capability helps to identify the costs for each supplier’s raw materials and to determine the costs per unit for each product line. It is also beneficial for inventory control, because it enables an organization to identify the quantities that are needed for each product, as well as to note when inventory is running low, based on the organization’s current demand.
  • Supplier corrective action: Corrective action is the heart of a good safety system. Extending corrective actions to suppliers is critical to maximizing visibility into supply chain safety. Integrated systems with tiered security enable suppliers to participate in the corrective action process while maintaining security.
  • Nonconformance tracking: Incoming raw materials need to be inspected and then managed properly if any defects or issues are found. Tools like nonconforming material tracking provide the necessary workflow and reviews to determine the disposition type of a nonconforming material. This helps to maximize the quality of the materials an organization receives, while providing better visibility into the cost of poor supplier quality.
  • Supplier rating: The quality of the supplier goods is critical to the success of a product. By incorporating the supplier rating system into the FSMS, an organization is effectively quantifying the performance of its suppliers. This helps to determine which suppliers provide the best materials for a product and allows suppliers to improve their own quality and safety processes in order to increase their supplier ratings.

Integration to this level ensures that suppliers are fully in step with the enterprise, which helps create a level of visibility that promotes common and cooperative quality and safety processes down the supply chain.

Conclusion

The integrated food safety management system streamlines compliance with the GFSI food safety standards. It consolidates the common processes, improves visibility into quality and safety, and boosts employee productivity. Risk-based filtering tools enable an organization to focus on those events that pose the highest risk to the business by helping to conquer data paralysis. Enterprise reporting helps to consolidate all information for better trending and data analysis across the enterprise, and integrating internal and supplier audits ensures compliance in all processes and procedures.

Organizations can then take quality to the next level by extending supply chain integration beyond audits. This ability enables an organization to identify top supplier risks and lets suppliers collaborate in the quality and safety processes.

An integrated food safety management system is the link to enhanced communication and visibility across the food chain and the supply chain—and the key to global compliance across the enterprise.

 


Brenda Percy is the product marketing analyst for EtQ Inc., based in Farmingdale, N.Y. EtQ specializes in enterprise quality, EHS, and compliance management software for identifying, mitigating, and preventing high-risk events through automation. She can be reached at bpercy@etq.com.

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