Managing Risk in the Supply Chain

The long and winding road (or rail line) from farm to food processing facility loading dock to the shelves of a local grocery store is fraught with risk when it comes to pests and food safety. That is why managers and QA staff at food processing facilities must be proactive and manage risk across their supply chain.

At the recent Sprague Pest Solutions Innovation in Pest Management Conference, Dr. David Acheson, founder and CEO of The Acheson Group and former Associate Commissioner for Foods at the US FDA and chief medical officer at the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, shared his insights on how food processors can mitigate risk in an ever more complex supply chain.

“Food processors do not have unlimited resources when it comes to managing risk in their supply chain so they must look at the process holistically,” says Acheson. “It is not a one size fits all approach.”

While Certificates of Analysis (COAs) and third-party audits will help you to some extent, food processors must identify who is really controlling risk up and down the supply chain.

“Where is the risk and who controls it? Is it you, the supplier or the customer?” asks Acheson. “Who is in charge of the supply chain in your operation? Is it procurement, product development or R&D?  Identifying the key players is a must.”

Acheson says it is not just inherent risk in ingredients or products that food processors need to be concerned with. Many companies fail to account for what they are doing with the product once it arrives at their plant. If you are cooking the ingredients then you can mitigate the microbiological risk but if not how are your suppliers’ controlling risks?

With Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) mandates driving verification requirements, it is imperative that food processors get a firm handle on risk management. Here are some important questions to ask as you start to develop or enhance an existing supply chain risk management plan:

  • Do you have adequate understanding of the risks?
  • Do you know who is really controlling the risk in your supply chain?
  • Are you able to track all the information you receive?
  • Are you checking COAs
  • Do you know what the COA’s really mean in terms of assurance for risk control?
  • Are third party audits being done and the results reviewed?
  • Who is in charge of the supply chain internally?

Best Practices on Tracking Information

An important element in managing risk in your supply chain is being able to track and analyze data. Without accurate, current and easily accessible data, facility and QA managers will find it hard to make good decisions and come up with an effective supply chain control plan.

One element of information tracking is the certificate of analysis (COA). How do plant and QA managers measure the robustness of these certificates?

A company will request, for example, a COA for salmonella for each shipment of a specific product. Once the shipment arrives, the plant’s QA manager will review it and see if it “checks all the boxes,” but what do you really know about the process that generated the COA? What was the sampling strategy used by the supplier? Was it a validated testing method? What laboratory did the analysis?

Acheson encourages plant and QA managers to seek answers to these questions and invest the time to ensure the COAs are accurate and provide the data and assurances they need.

“It all goes back to the type of food products you are dealing with,” says Acheson. “It is time to move away from the one-size-fits-all mindset and start thinking of risk ranking as it relates to your operation and the suppliers and ingredients you use.”

Where to Put Your Resources

Where should facility and QA managers deploy their resources to better manage risk in the supply chain?

Acheson says by leveraging data and analytics, you’ll be able to determine where to invest your time, people and resources. This will likely focus on the following areas:

Ingredient Risk

  • Hazard analysis
  • History

Supplier Risk

  • On site information
  • Document review
  • History

Your Use of the Ingredient

  • Processing
  • Volumes
  • Exposure

Looking for additional ideas on how to manage risk in your supply chain? Contact the pest management and food safety experts at Sprague to develop a strategy for your business.

Food Processing & Manufacturing, Food Retail & Grocery, Wineries & Breweries