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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, June/July 2012

Choosing a Food Safety Consultant

by Paul Medeiros

Pig number one built his plant, and because he had already been in the food business for 20 years and had never made anybody sick and had already been inspected by a local government inspector, he didn’t bother developing and implementing a food safety program.

Pig number two built his plant using an inexpensive contractor with no food experience. He realized that he needed to develop and implement a food safety system to keep his customers off his back, so he begrudgingly hired the cheapest consultant he could find, who parachuted in a finished set of procedures and documents that he promptly placed on his office shelf. 

Pig number three built his plant using a reputable and recognized contractor and architect with food plant experience. He also included an experienced food safety consultant on the design/build team. 

So what did pig number three know that his brothers didn’t? He knew that to be properly prepared to achieve the results he wanted, engaging the right consultant was key. He considered the following factors:

  • What work experience, technical training, education, and certifications does the consultant have?
  • What specific experience in the industry sector does the person have, particularly with the food safety project being hired for? The consultant should have successfully completed at least five to 10 similar projects in comparable industries.
  • What do references say, and how do previous work samples look?
  • How easily does the consultant answer technical questions?
  • Is pricing too low or too high? Cost is important, but don’t make a decision based solely on price. Watch for ambiguous pricing that commits to the project and then surprises with additional fees.
  • What is the consultant’s approach? If the consultant wants to do it all for the client, be wary. The best consultants foster independent and knowledgeable clients. Good consultants work their way out of projects; poor consultants keep clients dependent for the long term.

Once completed, pig number three invested in food safety training for himself and all his employees. Armed with a good understanding of food safety, he hired an eager and qualified food safety coordinator and, working with the support of an outside food safety expert, took the lead in developing and implementing a food safety system. The food safety coordinator made sure to verify and validate its effectiveness. He oversaw the entire development and implementation process and sought continuous updates and reports on the key food safety metrics. He was an engaged piggy!

Pig number three invested himself in food safety training for himself and all his employees. He hired an eager and qualified food safety coordinator and took the lead in developing and implementing a food safety system.

Soon, pig number one’s plant was visited by a mean gang of pathogens that included Salmonella and Campylobacter. They pounded on the door to the plant, but pig number one didn’t worry. He did not even hear the pounding, because his hearing had deteriorated due to lack of hearing protection and the fact that his machinery had grown dangerously loud from inadequate preventive maintenance. He was shocked to look up from his desk to see the pathogen gang swarming all over the place and destroying his plant—and his future. He ran over to pig number two’s plant for a new job.

Pig number two hired him on and felt smug in the safety of his plant, because he had passed an audit eight months earlier. He tended to work very hard in the two to three weeks prior to the audit to make sure he could please the auditor and keep his customers off his back. He figured that the hard work he had conducted eight months earlier would keep any gang of pathogens from ruining him. He was wrong. The gang showed up, and in short order his plant was also destroyed. He was very upset and blamed the auditor, the consultant, the government, his employees, and anybody else he could think of.

Pigs number one and two eventually went over to their brother’s plant and asked for work. Pig number three ran a lean operation, but business was expanding, and he was grateful for the help. He told his brothers they would need to attend training before they could work with him. They agreed and were amazed at the amount of useful information they learned. Pig number three was always concerned about the pathogen gang, so he stayed vigilant. Together, the entire team at pig number three’s plant worked to protect themselves against the threat of the pathogen gang. The gang came often, but they never ever made it past the door.   

The pathogen gang never tires, and to this day, they continue to attack pig number three’s plant. However, they have yet to make it past the plant’s robust food safety management systems. They change their tactics often, but because the plant’s system is always evolving and improving, the pathogen gang has failed every time.

 


Paul Medeiros, director of consulting services for the Guelph Food Technology Centre in Ontario, directs and manages all aspects of GFTC’s Food Safety and Quality Consulting unit. He also designs, implements, audits, troubleshoots, certifies and accredits food safety and quality systems for the various food sectors.

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