Top Five Questions When Developing a Comprehensive Food Safety Plan

Over the past 20 years, I’ve helped thousands of companies prepare for food safety audits. You can only imagine the plethora of questions my team and I are asking food companies as they build their own food safety programs. A lot revolves around the basics of building an initial food safety plan. Here are the top five food safety plan questions that I get asked regularly and that I will address in this article:

  • What are the foundations of a good food safety plan?
  • Who should be involved in building a food safety plan?
  • Can I convert my HACCP plan into a food safety plan?
  • Are there resources and tools available to help build my own food safety plan?
  • Should I add a food safety culture to my food safety plan?

What are the foundations of a good food safety plan?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dictates that a food safety plan is a set of written documents that are based on food safety principles and include:

  • serious analysis
  • Preventive Controls
  • supply chain software
  • Remember the plan
  • Written procedures to be followed for:
    • watching
    • corrective actions
    • Verification and authentication

A food safety plan is developed for each individual facility based on the unique issues in each facility. For example, if a company has multiple processing plants that process the exact same product in multiple regions across the country, each facility will need its own unique plan. The reason for this is that each facility may have different risks based on process flow planning, equipment used, suppliers, and even employee and management cultures.

Each facility will have a separate HACCP plan detailing all chemical, biological, and physical hazards for planning the process and equipment used. Recall plans must be created for unique customers for each facility. You will need to develop supplier control for the unique suppliers for each facility.

Who should be involved in building a food safety plan?

Creating a team to build your own food safety plan is one of the most important steps in the process and perhaps the most overlooked. Most teams I’ve seen include the Quality Assurance Officer and/or Food Safety Officer, Operations Manager, and Maintenance Manager. This is very limited and often results in lost risks and processes that are either too simple or overly complex. The food safety team must have a member from each of the following departments:

  • Food Safety / Quality Assurance
  • operations
  • Maintenance work
  • Crew or shift
  • Executive management (preferably CEO)
  • Sewage
  • factor of a line or two

Why the CEO, the shift supervisor and the direct worker(s)? The CEO creates the company culture and must direct the information from the top to the bottom. If the CEO is part of the team, the entire organization will understand the importance of a food safety plan.

Line workers and crew leaders are on the ground working the daily operations back and forth. They will be key to implementing the plan. While establishing operations, line employees and crew chiefs can provide incredible insight into which operations and reporting tools will be most effective on the ground. Obtaining this information before implementation will save hours of time and reduce the risk of having to change processes that are not actually working.

Can I convert my HACCP plan into a food safety plan?

Many companies have a basic HACCP plan for their facilities. Often the question is, “Isn’t my HACCP a food safety plan?” The answer is yes and no. Basically, you can have a HACCP plan and not have a food safety plan, but you cannot have a food safety plan without a HACCP plan.

A food safety plan is more comprehensive than a HACCP plan. Looking at your building layout and analyzing chemical, biological, and physical hazards is an essential part of a food safety plan. A food safety plan adds another layer of control over all risks and provides additional processes for preventative controls, recalls and supplier monitoring.

Also, companies with only a HACCP plan often do not keep this plan up to date with the comprehensive team described above. Once the new, stronger teams are established and begin to build a food safety plan, many find that they need to change their HACCP plans drastically.

Are there resources and tools available to help build my own food safety plan?

Fortunately, we live in a tech world full of cheap or free tools. There are many very smart people out there who have services available to help put together a food safety plan as well. Here is a list of some free and low cost solutions:

Free solutions:

  • The FDA has created a free solution, the “FDA Food Safety Plan Generator.” This solution guides you through the step-by-step process of creating a food safety plan.
  • If you need a food safety plan for a specific GFSI standard, walking through the individual checklists provided by the standards you choose will lead you to create a food safety plan, albeit a very robust one.
  • If you don’t need a full certification, building a food safety plan based on GFSI Global Markets is a great starting point and they have a free toolkit.

Paid solutions:

  • There are many software tools that you can purchase. Pricing and features vary depending on the company. Google “Food Safety Plan Software” and you will see several options available.
  • Working with a consultant is a great option if you don’t have the time to learn the process of creating, building, and implementing a food safety plan. There are many great and not so great consultants in this industry. If you decide to go this route, be sure to interview at least three consultants and ask the following questions:
    • “Are you going to train us on how to own and maintain a food safety program or do you do it all on your own?” Many consultants believe that they “own” the software they develop, as if they were proprietary systems. Some will cost you year after year to use their software. Avoid these advisors.
    • “How long have you been consulting?”
    • “Can I speak to two of your former clients?” If they are not willing to provide testimonials it may be a red flag.

Should I add a food safety culture to my food safety plan?

I recently wrote an article for titled “Food Safety Costs: Correction vs. Prevention” and the opening sentence is “Every company that grows, produces, packages, processes, distributes and serves food has a food safety culture. In the food industry, when looking at food safety culture, there are two basic groups: Correction and Prevention Group”.

By starting the process of creating a food safety plan, you have already crossed the chasm in the Prevention Kit. Adding the elements of food safety employee training, recognition and management of food safety behavior to your food safety plan, and implementing these elements will transform your organization in some of the most positive ways.

Every food company has a food safety culture, some toxic and some refreshingly positive. If you’ve read this article to the end, I assume you have a positive food safety culture or would like to create one. Incorporating key team members into your planning and utilizing available resources will put you on the path to developing an effective food safety plan and a company culture that embraces food safety.

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