Like all management systems, a HACCP system needs to be continually improved. If this does not happen, the system may gradually lose effectiveness. One way to avoid this pitfall is to manage food safety and quality as a strategic issue. As companies adopt this perspective, senior management moves from ensuring food safety and quality by managing each crisis to managing the actual food safety and quality risks. Benchmark companies, such as Jack in the Box, use this approach as a normal part of doing business. This can be done by applying the principles of hazard assessment to analyze all business processes rather than limiting hazard analysis to just food safety issues. Senior management has four basic strategies to deal with risk:
- Accept the risk;
- Avoid the risk;
- Transfer the risk; and
- Mitigate the risk.
Risks are assessed in terms of the likelihood of an incident occurring and the severity of the incident. When the probability of occurrence and the severity of the risk are low, the food processor may elect to accept the risk. As the probability of occurrence and/or severity of the risk increases, the food processor needs to manage the risk in the most cost-effective manner. Senior management needs to reassess the risk periodically to ensure that the risk level has not changed and to ensure that new risks have not appeared.
Controlling a biological hazard through the use of prerequisite programs is an example of avoiding a hazard. For example, cleaning and sanitation programs may be used as the control mechanism for some microbial hazards. If this strategy is to remain effective, however, verification programs need to monitor it. Verification programs can include visual pre-op inspections, ATP (adenosine triphosphate) phosphohydrolase swabs, and/or microbial environmental swabs. A critical aspect of the verification program is that it must define the actions that will be taken in response to negative signals or trends.
For example, Milkco, Inc., a dairy headquartered in Asheville, N.C., packages fluid milk products for small- to medium-size businesses. To meet contractual requirements, the dairy subcontracts delivery of its products to a trucking firm that is responsible for providing trucks and drivers at times specified by Milkco. This is a two-fold strategy: The dairy avoids the risk inherent in hiring its own drivers and shipping and maintaining a fleet of delivery vehicles, thus transferring the risks to the trucking firm. But transferring risk does not absolve the food processor from the risk. Indeed, if a processor transfers risk to another firm, the processor should have verification procedures that ensure the risk is being controlled. The classic method of dealing with food safety and quality risks is to mitigate risk by using steps to ensure that the risk does not occur or is eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level. This is the typical risk strategy of a HACCP plan.
A Strategic Initiative
When food processors elevate food safety and quality to a strategic level, the result is improved relations in the supply chain. Customers typically develop a system to assess the effectiveness of the suppliers in meeting key requirements, which include several key items:
Food safety and quality requirements:
Supplier communications, which include reliability of logistics communications as well as those regarding other business or quality issues such as effectiveness of process improvements and corrective actions;
- Logistical issues, including response to lead times, timeliness, and accuracy of advanced shipping notices. Delivery accuracy includes the correct product, the correct amount of product, timeliness, and material handling and identification.
A good supplier assessment process system focuses on the following points:
- Clearly defined product specifications and other important requirements;
- Effective communication of the specifications and requirements. This includes a feedback system that informs the supplier on how they are meeting the requirements;
- Effective systems to measure conformance to the specifications and requirements; and
- An effective accountability system that takes effect when requirements are not met.
Problems arise when shortcuts are taken on any one of the four points.