It's a brand new year and traditionally a time where we sit down with our resolutions and plans for the year. So if you are strategising and brainstorming for the months ahead, we'd like to offer a few suggestions of what NOT to do when it comes to your Food Safety Management System.
 
We've identified a few areas, which we have seen to be consistently problematic for businesses, the issues which crop up again and again, in all sectors, from cleaning chemicals to 'high risk' products!

So whatever you do, please avoid these 7 costly errors:

1. Don't neglect to train your staff adequately:

If you are not moving forward, you are going nowhere... this applies to your staff too.  If they are not being mentored, tutored or equipped to do their jobs better and smarter, then they will not be adding value to  your business. Rather identify people or areas which need to be up-skilled, and earmark a portion of your annual budget for this.  Smarter, faster staff will make your product and business better.

2. Don't leave matters in the hands of your service providers:

Whether it be your cleaning team, your pest control provider or an independent consultant, they are only there to ASSIST you.  The responsibility for your product and your procedures remains with you. You need to have standards and systems in place and ensure your service providers are meeting them. Due diligence is YOUR duty, and you need to take ownership of this responsibility... no more passing the buck.

3. Don't rely on corrective action only

Life is busy, and costs are high... and as a result very often preventative action is bumped down the list of  priorities, to the point where the paint is peeling off the walls, the auditors are citing it as a non-conformance, and you have no option but to get the walls scraped and painted properly before your next audit. Why not make it a plan to build in a proper preventative maintenance schedule to ensure that everything is addressed regularly, with a budget and plan in mind.  As the saying goes: "Fail to plan and you plan to fail".

4. Don't believe that your audit results are the holy grail

Audits are nerve-wracking and it's easy to get into the mindset that they determine everything in your company.  The truth is that while they are a valuable tool, audits are only a snapshot of your system. Do not live from audit to audit, panicking and preparing just prior to the audit in order to be compliant.
Your system and facility should be ready to stand up to an unannounced audit on any given day of the week, because food safety is what you do when nobody is watching! Remember that you comply with the rules and regulations in order to produce safe food - not just to pass the audit!

5. Don't rely on rules & procedures instead of building a food safety culture in your company

Systems are a vital part of maintaining a successful food business, but you must be careful that it is not ONLY about your policies and procedures.  Remember that every policy or procedure has to be implemented by a human being... and this is where the risk factor comes in!  Even in the 21st century, the majority of foodborne illnesses and outbreaks are as a result of poor personnel hygiene or staff behaviour. No matter how great your system, or how effective your policies, if the user does not understand them, or their importance, the likelihood of them sticking to the plan is diminished.    Rather invest in your staff's food safety culture, and instill in them a vision and a plan to make the company the best and safest it can be. And make sure that Management leads by example!

6. Don't have a FSMS that doesn't reflect the implementation of the system.

Your Food Safety Management System is NOT just a paper exercise.  Make sure that you are using the information on your paperwork effectively - check, analyse and trend the records and make adjustments accordingly.  Make sure that you action your issues, don't just file the paperwork.  It's no use testing for (and finding) Listeria, and then doing nothing about solving the issue!  Your FSMS needs to be designed around YOUR actual system, not the other way around.

7. Don't Attempt to navigate through 2013 without a communication plan.

Food Safety doesn't just happen.  It is the result of careful and  well-thought out planning, and implementation of those plans. In order for your plans and strategies to be implemented they need to be communicated clearly to your staff, colleagues and all those involved.  Frank Yiannas, (the author of the book Food Safety Culture, Creating a Behavior-Based Food  Safety Management System), states that  "communication and culture are two sides of the same coin". The plans, changes and culture of an organisation cannot be realised if they are not communicated.  Yiannas suggests that companies use all the mediums available to them to get their message across,  These could include company newsletters, posters, company intranet and signs.  He advises that pictures are more powerful than words, and that your message can be relayed more effectively usings posters, signs and symbols. Another recommendation he makes is to have conversations with your staff, to impart the ethos and culture through contact and discussion.  Also key in this situation is that you ask questions, which can help you identify potential problems, and also make employees feel that they have a role to play in providing solutions for the company.

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