Unwrapping a Safe Food Supply Chain

Building a food safety culture fosters accountability and responsibility throughout organizations.
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Safe Food Delivery Hinges on Agility and Resilience

By Kimberly Coffin, Global Technical Director for Supply Chain Assurance at LRQA

With the past few years proving that changes to supply are inevitable, the ability to move quickly, adapt, and recover easily is crucial. There has been an unprecedented combination of events – ongoing since 2020 – that have resulted in significant supply chain upheavals for just about every sector, including the food industry.

At this same time, food businesses are facing ever-evolving consumer expectations and investor demands with an increased emphasis on objectives around ESG (environmental, social and governance). These overlapping pressures beg the question, with so many changing factors, how can we keep food safety paramount?

Approaching Risk

Businesses must ensure they are prepared to adapt and evolve. To do so, they need a strong understanding of the broad spectrum of risks presented and how these relate to business operations. These may include the impact on food safety when making packaging changes necessitated by supply disruption, cost factors or changing demands from consumers.

In the move to plastic-free packaging, for example, alternative materials need to uphold product integrity in order to safeguard consumers. The food and beverage industry has been placed under a microscope in recent years and companies must ensure they have a robust and approach to assessing and managing risk – if not, the delivery of safe food could be compromised.

It is similarly important that businesses get to the root of how any process disruption impacts their operational landscape. Proactively establishing this insight allows for a more agile business continuity plan, enabling an efficient response to threats or changes, all while having a higher level of confidence about the safety of food being manufactured.

A continuity plan should also have the scope to evolve as disruptions are faced. Learning from challenges is vital, as is re-evaluating the way things work and validating the effectiveness of any developments while analysing the impact. By using continuity plans as a framework to capture and evaluate lessons learned, businesses will adapt and recover quickly, becoming increasingly resilient.

Food SafetyMaking Change

Business continuity plans should be seen as an ever-evolving and fundamental part of operations. Establishing a resilient model for change management requires a process-driven approach that evaluates threats and allows businesses to implement a framework on how to respond to potential incidents.

Organizations should take a step back to assess the suitability of current systems, processes, and procedures. Key gaps must be identified to achieve a more harmonized risk-based approach to effectively managing your supply network. It is a balancing act which takes into consideration regulatory requirements and customer expectations, as well as business commitments and objectives.

Culture is Key

If an organization, and more specifically the people within it, don’t anticipate and plan for risk then it’s unclear whether the business can continue operating during turbulent times. The term ‘top down’ is frequently used, but in the case of building an agile business continuity model, taking a view from the bottom up and across business functions is equally important.

It might sound obvious but ensuring that everyone within an organization understands what their role is in delivering safe food is a vital step. They need to know why they operate the way they do in order to use initiative and question process suitability during times of disruption, rather than simply following a previously established procedure because that’s what they’ve always done.

This brings us to the topic of building a food safety culture and the importance of fostering accountability and responsibility throughout any organization. Providing the necessary training to personnel is key to ensuring all areas of the business have complete clarity on non-negotiables – those elements that cannot be compromised.

They should have equal clarity on the organization’s risk appetite, assessing whether a deviation from established processes requires additional measures for risk control.

With change being the only constant for businesses, and perhaps the new greatest threat, remaining agile and resilient is salient for preserving food safety. Whether it’s supply chain issues, workforce changes, natural disasters, or cyber-attacks prompting the need for change, it is crucial to have key business practices, processes and plans in place.

About the Author

Kimberly Coffin is the Global Technical Director for Supply Chain Assurance at leading global assurance partner, LRQA. Over the past 30 years, Kimberly has worked for and with leading food and beverage manufacturers, retailers and associated supply chain organizations across the U.S., Latin America, Asia and Australia/New Zealand. For more information about LRQA, please visit: www.lrqa.com

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