How to Examine Your Compliance Obligations for a Viable Corporate Vision

Compliance is a hot topic in today’s food industry, as consumers push brands to demonstrate social responsibility and government agencies dig deeper into food safety realities. Companies all along the supply chain feel the pressure to ensure high-quality, compliant processes. In the C-Suite, executives are working to oversee these efforts and fulfill your organization’s compliance obligations. But have you taken the time to determine whether you truly understand your risk position in relation to compliance?

It’s difficult to succeed at something that you don’t fundamentally or comprehensively understand. This is especially true in the world of compliance, where the landscape is constantly shifting, the details are complex and the outcomes are majorly impacted by every decision that’s made. Before you can execute an effective plan for meeting your company’s compliance obligations, let’s work on identifying and understanding them first.

Every successful corporate vision for food safety involves examining the areas of your organization that are impacted, as well as the degree to which these impacts exist. This assessment is essential to defining a viable corporate vision that protects your business and your brand. Gather the support of an internal compliance team or outside experts to investigate the following compliance-related areas and garner a firmer understanding of your food safety obligations.

FSMA Mandates and Government Agency Regulations

The FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) has transformed the industry and urged companies to shift their programs based on more preventive approaches. It’s “the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years,” turning the tables on reactive methods and mandating more proactive ones.

There are many resources available from the FDA and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service to assist with fulfilling your compliance obligations. You should consult these extensively for details about:

  • Final rules and full text of the law
  • Past and upcoming deadlines according to company size
  • Emerging announcements
  • Implementation strategies
  • Recommended tools and guides
  • Answers to frequently asked questions
  • Training opportunities
  • Reports and studies
  • Meetings, workshops and events

In addition, consider adopting smart software that can help verify compliance with FSMA and other government agency requirements. As the “Modernization” within FSMA suggests,  many organizations are investing in a technological solution that fosters deep visibility, strengthens communication and automates operations. This can drastically improve your company’s ability to accurately fulfill its compliance obligations, while replacing human error-prone manual processes.

Industry Practices

The ability to execute a sound corporate vision for food safety lies not only in your capacity to meet mandated regulations, but also in the willingness to adapt to industry-wide best practices. Compliance affects every organization in the food arena, and it is within this community that best practices, strategies and technologies are forged to elevate food safety measures. Following are some of the most valuable industry solutions that promote compliance:

  • Automated Monitoring: Inefficient, labor-intensive processes for monitoring food quality and safety are being replaced by automated systems that are essential to keeping up with the compliance landscape. You can implement automated preventive controls via a technology solution that delivers features like automatic scheduling, testing and labelling properties, holistic plant visualization, instant communication, customized workflows, robust reporting and a digital means of documentation, archival and auditing preparation.
  • Predictive Actions: To adopt the necessary preventive measures for monitoring, corrective action and verification, you must be able to harness your collected data to make informed decisions and take effective actions. From quantitative and qualitative testing data to pathogenic and hygienic results, as well as indicator organisms, allergens, toxins and residues, many in the industry are utilizing dynamic technology that can synthesize your information and facilitate predictive actions.
  • Fast Recall Identification and Notification: The sooner and more proactively your organization can identify and communicate food safety issues, the more effectively you can avoid compliance failures. Industry innovations in food safety testing and software enable companies to both pinpoint recall precursors more quickly and relay alerts and notifications immediately, saving immeasurably on recalled products and other damage-control efforts.
  • Digitally Connected Supply Chain: Traceability is key in decreasing the production and distribution of unsafe or low-quality food products. Being able to record and track every step of your product’s journey from farm to fork is invaluable for compliance. That’s just one reason why solutions for a digitally connected chain have become best practice in the industry.

Legal Liabilities

We know that foodborne illnesses resulting from contaminated, mislabeled or mishandled food are a serious threat to public health. When they result in high medical costs, lost wages and other significant expenses, victims have been known to take legal action in order to win compensation for their suffering and financial loss. Injuries caused by foodborne illnesses are one of the most common forms of personal injury claims. In the case of food-related deaths, legal retribution is an even greater threat.

Potential causes of legal action for food-related illness include:

  • Negligence: Under general negligence principles, a business has a duty to exercise reasonable care. Failure to exercise reasonable care could result in litigation.
  • Strict Products Liability: In contaminated food cases, a plaintiff must show that the food was defective and unreasonably dangerous, and that said food caused the illness. Anyone in the chain of distribution can be sued.
  • Breach of Warranty: Most states have implied warranties that a product will conform to an ordinary buyer’s expectations and follow minimal quality specifications. An injured consumer can claim that a food did not conform to the ordinary buyer’s expectation of non-contaminated food.

The best course of action is to partner with a legal expert to understand your compliance obligations as they relate to current law. Without the appropriate steps to ensure compliance and prevent legal liability, food companies — and their executives — are at higher risk of facing costly lawsuits and even criminal charges.

Geographical Considerations

As the supply chain has globalized, compliance has been impacted by geographical concerns. Understanding and closely monitoring your suppliers, especially those in locations with differing safety protocol, is critical to fulfilling your compliance obligations.

The activities and practices employed by food suppliers affect the safety of the products manufactured, so it is essential to implement a food supplier verification program that prevents any hazards your suppliers may be introducing as a result of improper handling and sanitation procedures. With a controlled process to regularly assess your food suppliers, you’re able to benefit from greater visibility into potential compliance risks.

The FSMA Final Rule on Foreign Supplier Verification Programs provides in-depth information to help you understand your organization’s requirements and formulate an effective compliance approach.

Operational Frameworks

How you manage operations and assess food safety risks directly impacts your potential to meet compliance obligations, which is why it’s so important for food companies to ensure their operational frameworks match their compliance objectives.

This often requires a level of expertise that can only be acquired through a professional consulting partner with the experience to design and help implement comprehensive food safety systems. A qualified expert can provide the skill and insight to evaluate and develop cost-conscious solutions for mitigating your risk through:

  • Supply chain risk control
  • Risk assessment of incoming products and suppliers
  • Development of management strategies
  • Review of raw material facility management (storage and handling)
  • Documentation review, desk audits and/or on-site evaluations
  • Development of and data analysis for sanitation and testing plan
  • Traceability assessments, system design and training simulations
  • Food defense vulnerability assessments and food defense plans
  • Recall plan assessment/gap analysis and plan development
  • Recall training and simulations

As you work on fully grasping these compliance obligations, you’re sure to set the stage for a stronger corporate vision, one that places focus on your customers and your brand. Essentially, these two assets are the core of your business, so they must be valued and protected at every stage of the compliance journey.

To ensure that you’re maintaining the right approach, even in the event of a recall, consult the useful information provided in our free Food Recall Prevention Kit.

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