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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, December/January 2011

Start a Food Safety Management System

One step at a time is all it takes

by Simon Timperley

Businesses from all links in the food chain are increasingly challenged to implement a structured food safety management system (FSMS) that is incorporated into the overall management activities of the organization. This challenge comes from the requirement to comply with a growing number of regulations, as well as pressure from customers and the ethical obligation to protect consumers from illness and injury by providing safe food.

Many business owners understand this and want to get started, but a newcomer can easily get lost in the plethora of standards, regulations, and requirements—and overwhelmed to the point of inactivity. But implementing an FSMS need not be so daunting, as you’ll see below.

A Standard to Follow

One of the first steps for an organization implementing an FSMS is to consider customer requirements and what must to be done to meet them. Most customers will require an FSMS to be certified to a recognized standard. These could include British Retail Consortium, Safe Quality Foods, ISO 22000, or FSSC 22000, all of which are approved by the Global Food Safety Initiative. Decide which FSMS standard meets your customer requirements and buy a copy. This standard should be read and understood by key personnel.

Once you decide which standard meets your customer’s requirements, ensure that it is read and understood by key personnel.
Once you decide which standard meets your customer’s requirements, ensure that it is read and understood by key personnel.

In order to develop a successful system, senior management must be committed to establishing, implementing, and maintaining the FSMS. You should begin the FSMS implementation process by having senior management prepare an organizational strategy based on customer and potential customer requirements. In this process, because responsibility for an FSMS lies with senior management, food safety policies and objectives should be generated. At this stage, the resources needed to implement, maintain, and improve the FSMS, including personnel, infrastructure, training, and work environment, should be considered and provided. As part of this process, a food safety team leader and a multi-disciplinary food safety team should be appointed by senior management to develop the FSMS.

HACCP at the Core

All food businesses should implement a documented FSMS based on hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) principles. HACCP is the systematic preventive approach to food safety that focuses on preventing physical, chemical, and biological hazards rather than conducting random finished product inspections. This means that food businesses should be aware of all the food safety hazards in their food operations and have systems in place to control them. A comprehensive HACCP system, complete with hazard analysis and assessment, is fundamental to the FSMS. The system should address customer, technical, and legal requirements in addition to physical, chemical, and biological hazards identified by the HACCP plan.

An important step in safeguarding food safety is ensuring that the FSMS is incorporated into the overall management activities of the organization. In order for the system to be effective, the activities of key functions should be integrated into it. Senior management should communicate policies and responsibilities, including authority levels. It should be clear to all personnel that everyone is responsible for food safety. Food safety management responsibility should not simply be delegated to technical personnel.

Documentation of the FSMS is key. The system documentation should be developed based on a study by your HACCP team. The HACCP team should be multidisciplinary, with all functions of the business represented. The HACCP team should be suitably competent and tasked with generating HACCP plans and associated documents, procedures, and records that ensure the safe manufacture of your products.

During the implementation phase, all personnel should be trained, follow procedures, and complete records that demonstrate the effectiveness of your food safety management system. Once your food safety management system is implemented, be sure to complete verification activities to demonstrate it is working effectively.

Communication and Training

The next step to implementing your FSMS is communication and training. During the implementation phase, all personnel should be trained, follow procedures, and complete records that demonstrate the effectiveness of your system. Once your FSMS is implemented, be sure to complete verification activities to demonstrate that it is working effectively.

When you have verified that the system is operating well, you should arrange an assessment with your chosen certification body. At this point, the certification body will conduct an audit to review your FSMS and determine whether you should be recommended for registration. Once you have been approved, you will receive a certificate confirming that your FSMS meets the requirements of your chosen food safety standard.

Implementing an effective FSMS is not easy. Because it takes a certain level of investment of time, effort, and money, it is vitally important to celebrate the success of certification with employees and share the good news with existing and prospective customers. An effective FSMS is one of the keys to retaining existing business and a doorway to winning new business.

One of the biggest problems organizations encounter when developing an FSMS is establishing the documentation required to make the system effective. FSMS templates are available that provide a sound basis and include primary top-level procedures, prerequisite procedures, records, and HACCP documents that are easily adapted to suit any organization regardless of its size.

Timperley is employed by the International Food Safety and Quality Network. For further information, contact team@ifsqn.com or go to www.ifsqn.com/index.php?cPath=29.

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