Feb 25 , 2022
It's almost SQF Food Safety Level 2 Certification audit time again for Gem City Fine Foods! In a couple weeks an outside auditor will come into our bakery and scour all our food safety documents, from policies and SOPs (standard operating procedures) through records including temperature readings and employee training attendance. The auditor will walk the entire premises looking for areas where we can improve and will interview team members as they do their jobs- just to make sure we know what we are doing and that we are doing it with your safety utmost in mind.
It's a grueling and, quite frankly, somewhat intimidating process we endure every year. The whole concept behind SQF (Safe Quality Food) certification is that this is a continuous improvement process. No company can ever be 100% perfect. There is always room for improvement.
The standards themselves are open somewhat to an auditor's interpretation. All auditors come from their own professional backgrounds and perspectives. It's a little like a couple Supreme Court Justices arguing over whether it's OK to dry dishes by hand with a clean towel with gloves on or whether because air drying has been shown to be the best way to avoid microbial build up, that is the ONLY way a team member can dry dishes. (This is a real life example that came up in our last audit.)
And our monthly food safety (and employee safety) walk throughs often elicidate areas where we can improve. Some of the observations include repeat acts that require reminders, or as the tech lingo would say, "retraining." For instance, it's easy to bump against a bag of rice flour, pushing it into a wall on the way by with a full pallet of product, for instance. So what? Food safety standards say keep those dry goods away from the wall by a few inchesto avoid pests finding their way in. (Of course, we also have a rigid pest monitoring system in place that alerts us if spiders start scurrying around on the walls.)
Really it's kind of a fascinating topic, food safety. Admittedly, I don't keep up with regulations and news just because it's part of my job; I am fascinated by the tidbits that pop up on my screen or in the mail.
For instance, did you know that "bakery desserts" are not represented in the top foods causing illnesses in the decade 2009-2018? Check out the illustration here, from the December 2021 issue of Food Processing mag. (Yes, I read that, and they do a nice job covering food safety every issue.)
If you take a careful look at the illustration, you can see some ingredients that could be problematic: grains, fruits, root vegetables, dairy and eggs, all of which account for a bit over 25% of the listed problem foods. However, we engage a kill step (baking at a temperature far above the USDA approved 165 F to kill microbes) in the baking process that takes care of the grains, some fruits, carrots and eggs. And our berries arrive frozen, which is another control point for microbial inhibition.
We are not only audited for SQF certification. We also receive an annual visit from a GFCO (Gluten Free Certification Organization) auditor who runs through many of the same food safety standards as our SQF auditor, in addition to checking our gluten training and testing methods and results and SOPs related to avoiding gluten in the facility and our products. And FDA and USDA both pop in randomly, so we always have to be on our toes.
Every team member is trained in operating procedures and record keeping according to their jobs, to ensure adherence to food safety measures. We have a Food Safety Team that consists of team members from management and each area of operations, and we have two SQF Practitioners: Our Operations Manager on-site who monitors day-to-day procedures and keeps records, and our CEO off-site who maintains and leads review and self-audit of policies, procedures and associated documents. The two split training tasks. We've found this to be the most effective way of making sure our small team is covering all the bases.
If you have questions about our food safety policies and procedures, or food safety in general, I invite you to be in touch at email@example.com so we can route you to the best person to answer.
With continued dedication to your safe enjoyment of our certified gluten free, nut free and food allergy friendly desserts,
Lisa Cox is CEO/SVP Sales & Marketing for Gem City Fine Foods. She is a trained SQF Practitioner and serves as off-site Coordinator of the bakery's food safety programs.