Hans Kissle Takes Winning Approach to Food Safety
by Ted Agres
A focus on food quality and safety, combined with an emphasis on employee training, teamwork, and effective implementation of new technologies, are just some of the reasons behind the selection of Hans Kissle, a manufacturer of fresh prepared foods, deli salads, and meats in Haverhill, Mass., to receive the 11th annual Food Quality Award.
Sponsored by DuPont Qualicon, the award was presented April 18 during a reception at the Food Safety Summit Expo and Conference in Washington, D.C.
“We’re delighted that the judges selected Hans Kissle for this year’s Food Quality Award,” said Megan DeStefano, global marketing manager for DuPont Qualicon. “The innovations and value for food safety and quality throughout the Hans Kissle organization were found to be outstanding. And we’re very pleased to sponsor this annual award, which recognizes the critical role of food processors in protecting the food supply.”
“Our team takes great pride in the products we produce,” said Robin L. Beane, Hans Kissle’s director of operations, in accepting the award. “Therefore, to be recognized with this prestigious award authenticates the values and high standards we embrace and adhere to as a company every day.”
Previous winners of the annual Food Quality Award include Mastronardi Produce, Michigan Turkey Producers, Fieldale Farms, West Liberty Foods, Hormel Foods, Beef Products, Tyson Food Safety and Laboratory, Sysco, Franklin Foods, Hygaard Fine Foods, and East Balt Commissary.
Hans Kissle, which loosely translates to “John’s Kettle” in German, was founded in 1984 as a commissary to manufacture signature fresh deli salads, prepared foods, custom deli meats, and side dishes for the Roche Brothers Supermarket chain in the Boston area. The purpose was to have a central facility that would assure the quality and consistency of its fresh deli products. “Roche was known for its very high quality deli salads and other prepared foods, which were made in their stores at that time,” said Ken Venti, president of Hans Kissle.
Hans Kissle was originally situated in a former meatpacking plant in Somerville, Mass. In 2004, the company moved to a new, 112,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in Haverhill, Mass., designed by the Dennis Group, an architectural and engineering firm specializing in food manufacturing processes and plants. Reflecting Hans Kissle’s commitment to the environment, nearly half of the 30-acre lot is designated as conservation land.
Now an independent company, Hans Kissle supplies a full line of salads (including, potato, pasta, and specialty/seafood salads), prepared foods, desserts, deli meats, and holiday dinner kits to a range of major East Coast retail grocers. These include Ahold (Stop & Shop), Supervalu, BJ’s, Hannaford, Shop Rite, and Kroger. Hans Kissle also supplies products to a number of major foodservice companies, including Dunkin’ Donuts, Sysco, US Foodservice, and PFG. “We also have a growing business in the Midwest and even ship some products to the West Coast,” Venti said, noting that geographical expansion plans are under way.
The company’s philosophy is simple: “To be the best and to conduct our affairs with Golden Rule principles,” Venti said. “This means that we will endeavor to provide our customers with the best-tasting and freshest products available. These products will be made with the most stringent and safest standards and processes. We always endeavor to ‘do the right thing’ and treat customers, suppliers, employees, and shareholders as we all would like to be treated.”
Commitment to Training
“Food quality and safety are the hallmarks of our success,” said Beane. “We believe that the finest ingredients, prepared with caution and care, result in satisfied consumers and reflect favorably on our valued customers. The distinguishing characteristic of our company is the uncompromising commitment of all our associates to meet our very strict standards.”
To accomplish this, all employees participate in annual and ongoing safety and quality training programs. Annual programs cover such areas as allergens, food defense, good manufacturing processes, sanitation, standard operating procedures, quality, safety, hazard communications, blood-borne pathogens, HACCP (13 specific plans), and process controls. Training sessions are offered in three languages to ensure complete employee comprehension. Outside equipment suppliers also conduct regular training programs for installed machinery, such as X-ray contamination detection, inkjet printing, and Osgood filling systems. All managers, even those not involved in manufacturing, have completed a ServSafe or HACCP and/or SQF certification course.
Every day of operation, the facility’s equipment is completely disassembled, rinsed, scrubbed, cleaned, and sanitized. Teams of employees from all departments trained in quality control, safety, and maintenance conduct daily inspections for possible food safety hazards. “Any area of a piece of equipment that is identified as a hazard will have a corrective action completed and is added to the sanitation’s master sanitation schedule to ensure no further deficiency will occur,” Beane said.
The effort has gained notice. In 2011, Hans Kissle received SQF Level 3 “excellent” certification through Silliker. The year before, the company earned an SQF Level 2 certification, and in 2009, a Silliker Platinum Award—one of only 10 food manufacturing facilities throughout the U.S. to have done so.
The company’s teamwork approach also impressed the Food Quality Award judges. “It is obvious that the entire associate team, supported by top management at Hans Kissle, has defined, implemented, and is maintaining a food safety and quality program that focuses on the production of a safe product that meets requirements while continually improving the process and system overall,” one judge commented. “It is very exciting to see a successful organization that has such a strong focus and is able to implement and maintain it.”
Investing in Technology
Like many modern food processing companies, Hans Kissle invests in new technologies to improve safety and quality. “We are always researching the current technologies in the industry for food safety, product processes, equipment, and sustainability, and [we] consider how these would work for Hans Kissle,” Venti said. Some of the major investments in 2011 included:
Cooling tower: An older cooling tower was replaced with a more efficient, larger capacity unit. The investment reduced energy consumption by 15% while allowing products to be cooled more quickly, ensuring HACCP compliance.
X-ray contamination and metal detection systems: Hans Kissle upgraded and added new X-ray detection systems to minimize the risk of foreign materials, and upgraded its metal detection systems to screen for ferrous, non-ferrous, and stainless steel on all production lines. “We have replaced/upgraded our current metal detectors each year to enhance our ability to prevent foreign materials from reaching our customers,” Beane said.
Hans Kissle’s quality assurance efforts have led to the company rejecting about 1% of all incoming ingredients as substandard, saving about $800,000.
Integrated computer system: An upgraded computerized processing system provides full audit and tracking capability for every lot purchased and every finished good produced. The system tracks all raw products and packaging through production as well as the finished goods that are produced. Combined with concentrated employee training, the system’s real-time inventory control increased the company’s inventory cycle by more than 30% and reduced paper consumption by 25%.
Industrial rider floor scrubber: A new EcoFlex floor rider scrubber provides cleaning with greater control over use of water and detergent.
Repitch and seal seafood processing room: A new seafood processing area was built with repitched floors to eliminate any potential for standing water. Modified concrete with epoxy primer was installed with approved topping and lock-coat.
Wet sole cleaning system: In addition to use of in-plant approved shoes, boots, and shoe coverings, Hans Kissle installed a wet shoe/boot cleaning system that mechanically brushes and applies sanitizer to shoe and boot treads to help prevent contamination.
Inkjet printer systems: A new Markem-Imaje printer system that operates on only 60 watts of power has reduced ink consumption by 40% and make-up fluid by 30%.
Other technology investments in 2011 include automatic package sealers, upgraded pH and Neogen rapid allergen testing equipment, and energy-efficient lighting. “We realize the benefits from the investments will continue for years to come,” Venti said.
Hans Kissle’s investments in training, technology, and other quality assurance efforts have paid off in numerous ways. Customer complaints fell by 19% from 2010 to 2011, even as sales increased. The ratio of customer complaints per 100,000 pounds sold was 0.32 in 2010 and 0.22 in 2011, a 29% improvement. Shipping and distribution mistakes have been reduced by 25% through improved in-plant communications and new computer and tracking systems. “This shows a direct correlation to our investment in quality control,” Beane said.
Laboratory testing represents about 30% of Hans Kissle’s quality control budget. Products are randomly selected for testing, sanitation validation, and GMP. The company conducts about 10,000 individual lab tests annually on raw materials, finished products, and new items. About 97% of all test results are in the acceptable range. The increase in customer confidence is reflected, for example, in a 70% reduction in lab tests required by one of the company’s largest customers. “The financial return truly is appreciated through minimal product returns [and] product put on internal quality control hold, and significant increase in sales over the past few years,” Beane said.
The company also increased by 50% the number of third-party certified lab tests conducted for Listeria and Salmonella in raw materials prior to being accepted into the facility. Test results were negative/375 grams for Salmonella and negative/125 grams for Listeria in 2011. “Our objective is to eliminate and not merely reduce any potential opportunity for pathogen activity,” Beane said. In-plant testing is also performed on food and non-food contact surfaces, finished goods, and on randomly selected USDA finished products.
Hans Kissle’s quality assurance efforts have led to the company rejecting about 1% of all incoming ingredients as substandard, saving about $800,000. “The raw materials rejected saves on cost to produce, cost of raw materials, time, and potential return or recall for sub-quality product,” Beane explained.
In addition to daily employee-run food safety and sanitation audits, USDA inspectors walk the facility with the quality control supervisor and sanitation manager every day prior to starting production. The military also inspects the facility annually, because Hans Kissle is a supplier for its commissaries. Hans Kissle’s policy is to allow any customer to visit or audit its facility without prior notice. “Our customers have found our facility to meet or exceed all regulatory and customer requirements,” Beane said.
Measures of true success go beyond the financial to include community involvement and support. “Hans Kissle supports organizations directly and through our partnerships with our customers’ communities and charitable organizations,” Beane said. The company provides donations of food and financial support to a number of local charities and food banks. Employees are encouraged to participate in community programs that promote wellness, including teaching food safety at a local community college, helping with youth corps, and mentoring high school students in career opportunities.
Looking forward, Hans Kissle is reviewing the FDA’s new FSMA requirements and has reevaluated its food safety plans, Venti said. And of course, developing new products is at the forefront of continued success. “New products are an essential ingredient to our growth plans,” Venti said. “Retail customers in particular are always looking for products that keep their customers interested and excited about their delis and other food operations.”
Agres is based in Laurel, Md. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.