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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, December/January 2006

SYSCO wins the 2005 Food Quality Award

by Mark A. Desorbo

Consider the words, systems, services and company. John Baugh did just that in 1969 when he realized his vision to become a “broadline” distributor, hence the name SYSCO Corp., a Houston, Texas-based food service marketing and distribution organization.

“John still comes to the office,” says Shane Sampels, SYSCO’s director of quality assurance. “And his wish was to become a broadline distributor of everything you could possibly need for a restaurant; cleaning supplies, cooking supplies, food; you name it, we have it.”

Some 37 years later, SYSCO has grown into a company that serves approximately 390,000 customers with 2005 sales topping $30 billion in a $210 billion food service and hospitality market. In fact, it distributes more than 300,000 products, 40,000 of which carry the SYSCO brand name.

SYSCO, along with Tyson Food Safety and Laboratory Services Network, is a winner of the 2005 Food Quality Award.

“It’s a great honor to be here today,” Sampels says in his acceptance speech. “We saw food safety initiatives for many years go unrecognized. Even though many companies have dedicated substantial amounts of resources to protect their brands and investors, we never really had a way to recognize them, and I’m glad DuPont Qualicon and Food Quality magazine have stepped forward to recognize us. It’s definitely a pleasure.”

Management Commitment and Safety

A panel of eight judges was divided on the winner of the Food Quality Award, and the four who picked SYSCO applauded management commitment to food safety and quality.

“The Quality Assurance Department continues to grow,” Sampels wrote in SYSCO’s award entry. “We have 32 degreed, full-time staff positions and 150 to 200 contract positions that inspect the quality of SYSCO Brand products. The number people and financial support has increased over the last four years at an average of nearly 10 percent.”

As far as safety goes, Sampels says SYSCO requires all potential suppliers to undergo a rigorous and comprehensive audit by a company QA staffer prior to producing a SYSCO product.

“Part of this audit process requires all of our suppliers to implement HACCP plans, except in cases where HACCP is not appropriate for the product; at a minimum, a hazard analysis must be provided,” Sampels writes.

In addition, SYSCO also has a seafood HACCP plan. Last year, its QA department trained 100 employees to be “distribution facility seafood HACCP coordinators.”

“We’ve also initiated produce HACCP training in the last year and trained produce receivers on individual SYSCO operating companies,” Sampels says.

Sanitation and Technology

Formal sanitation programs are also a must for SYSCO suppliers and distribution centers. SYSCO distribution centers undergo a twice-annual third-party audit.

“The sanitation programs are review utilized our QA staff during audits and visits in addition to independent third-party audits,” Sampels writes. “The food distribution system is the core business of SYSCO. We control the distribution of our products to the customer base. Any forwarding warehouses are audited prior to utilization by SYSCO. Requirements are set for temperature control and chain of custody.”

The familiar SYSCO trucks are geared to maintain cold chain distribution and have three compartments to handle dry, refrigerated and frozen products.

Most of the technology for SYSCO QA is software driven, Sampels says. More than 35,000 specifications are maintained in a database that SYSCO suppliers can access via the Internet. Suppliers can enter and update information, and the database also provides a keyword search.

“We have implemented a PDA auditing communication system,” Sampels explains. “With this new system, a potential supplier can access and provide pre-audit information to SYSCO QA via the Internet, and the information can be downloaded to a PDA device.”

PDAs are used during physical audits, and all the information can be summarized immediately following a review. The system automates the supplier approval process and reduces the amount, as well as the reliance, on paperwork. The system also provides trend analysis as information is collected.

The Employees

“The average number of year’s service for a staff employee is 10 years,” according to Sampels.

Quality assurance employees are expected to complete yearly personal development or continuing education courses each year. This includes 31 training courses attended by the staff members last years. The financial commitment is about $1,000 per QA employee.

Regular QA staff meetings and yearly QA conference cultivate coaching and feedback, and according to Sampels, each quarter, the off-site QA staff members gather at SYSCO’s corporate offices for a departmental meeting.

The interplay that is generated in that meeting is coupled with a new performance management program “Coaching and Maximizing Performance,” has established alignment in goals and skill development, which, in turn, boosts communication and coaching of employees who ultimately maintain SYSCO's quality assurance.



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