Change has been the one constant in assuring food quality and safety at US Foods Inc., says Jorge Hernandez, senior vice president of food safety and quality assurance (FSQA) at the Rosemont, Ill., food and distribution company. Over the years, it has grown by acquiring a number of different companies, which in turn necessitated culling the best practices from all of them while reducing overlap.
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“This is a continuous improvement process,” explains Hernandez. “It has a lot to do with the culture we established from the beginning.”
When Hernandez started the FSQA department at US Foods 10 years ago, there was no single food quality program across all the different companies.
“My first job was to integrate the program into one function that would be across all the different businesses and distribution centers,” he explains. “So from the beginning the challenge was to take the best of all of those programs and put them into one that was not only able to meet regulations, but that would have a sense of innovation with more effective processes and solutions.”
He adds, “We saw the world of safety, quality, and compliance was starting to change and speed up, and we needed a program that could adapt with those changes and make continuous improvements so it would be easier to move forward with new regulations, new findings from investigations, and new technology.”
For its corporate-wide integration and focus on quality and safety, US Foods was recently named the winner of the 14th annual Food Quality & Safety Award. The Award presentation was held during the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) conference, Portland, Ore., on July 26.
The company has a challenging task, with 350,000 products, including 20,000 high-quality exclusive brands, distributed through 63 nationwide locations on more than 6,000 refrigerated trucks. It also has 12 beef processing facilities, four culinary equipment and supplies distribution centers and six Cash & Carry retail stores.
Despite those huge numbers, it has managed to require that all of its 1,200 private-label co-packers—as well as its own distribution centers—obtain Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) certification. It initiated a web-based complaint system that has made it easier to report, investigate, and catch problems earlier. The results: a 24 percent reduction of product foreign material complaints and an 11 percent reduction in quality complaints in 2014 compared to the previous year.
In addition, US Foods has added new technologies such as a system to control meat package leakage. The company also developed and required food safety training for every job function in its distribution centers. And, it is the first broadline distributor to use DNA testing to verify seafood species and prevent mislabeling or detect fraud.
“The need for the application of food safety science has never been greater than it is today,” Gale Prince, CFS, founder and president of SAGE Food Safety Consultants LLC of Cincinnati, Ohio, said in giving his keynote address during the Award ceremony. “You must be proactive with futuristic thinking in preventing food safety issues.”
US Foods has been a strong proponent of partnerships across the industry at GLOBALG.A.P., GFSI, the International Food Protection Institute, the Center for Produce Safety, Produce Marketing Association, Association of Food & Drug Officials, IFS, and the American National Standards Institute. The company has also been an advocate of sharing best practices among food companies throughout the country.
Accepting the Award at the July ceremony were Hernandez and his colleagues Jeff Semanchek, director, supplier food safety and quality; Frank Ferko, director of distribution-FSQA; Stephen B. Posey, manager distribution FSQA–Central/Southwest Regions; and Roberto Bellavia, director of FSQA Stock Yards National.