For food manufacturers, the safety of finished goods is not only dependent on the ingredients themselves, but also largely dependent on the suppliers used throughout the food supply chain. Having a properly managed supplier program can help to ensure quality is met, and also helps to create great working relationships between manufacturers and suppliers. One key component to having an outstanding supplier program is having a well-built and well-maintained supplier approval process. Not to mention, supplier verification will be a big part of the Preventative Controls for FSMA, which is set to be finalized by August 30.
So what makes up a strong supplier approval program?
Have a Supplier Approval Checklist
To help keep things organized throughout the approval process, it’s important to have a checklist of some sorts that can be used throughout the various departments within the company to ensure everyone is on the same page and the responsible parties understand their particular roles. For example, purchasing needs to examine costs and minimum order requirements for new ingredients, quality will need to examine the potential ingredients for—of course—quality purposes, and R&D will need to review and approve a test sample of the new ingredient.
Incorporate Supplier Questionnaires
The purpose of the questionnaire is that it aims to assess the supplier’s food safety and quality systems. What needs to be included in this questionnaire? Of course you should require items like contact information for certain departments and responsible parties, but you also need to require items like food safety certificates, mandatory documentation, QA safety parameters, third-party audits, HACCP, etc. And in addition to the questionnaire itself, it’s important to ensure the supplier also sends along required documentation like specifications, claims certificates, HACCP flow charts, etc.
QA will need to review the questionnaire and assess whether the supplier meets all company required specifications. At this point, QA can reject, approve, or even issue corrective actions that must be met before the company purchases anything from the potential new supplier. All of these items should be gathered within the master checklist and the questionnaire will need to be updated regularly.
Have One Source for All Supplier Information
Through software like TraceGains, you can have a single source to store all supplier ingredients and supplier information. What all does your once source/register need to incorporate? It should include information on names and codes of all ingredients, the approved primary and alternate suppliers, the associated hazards of each ingredient, the methods used for accepting ingredients and approving suppliers, and the monitoring of suppliers. Lastly, your one source/register should include additional information on allergens, claims, nutrition and labeling, lot or batch number coding, and anything else that might be necessary for your records.
Conduct Risk Assessments
When conducting risk assessments, you should definitely look at specific items like volume of purchases for your company, but you also need to look at the possible associated chemical, physical, or bio hazards that could potentially contaminate products. Additionally, one could conclude that certain items are at a higher risk than others simply based on regulations and historical evidence. For example, an ingredient can be considered high risk if it’s an allergen, will be used at high volumes, or has potential for bio, physical, or chemical contamination. For more information regarding item risks, Howard Popoola of Topco gives his 9 best practices when it comes to managing these risks.
Using your risk assessment, you can then determine the method needed for approving a supplier. If there is a very low risk associated with a particular supplier, perhaps the questionnaire is enough. If there is more inherent risk for a supplier, perhaps you will also need to conduct an audit. Again, this all depends on the risk associated with your potential suppliers.
When it comes to your accepting methods at receiving points, you might include items like:
- A visual inspection
- A Certificate of Analysis for each shipment
- A Certificate of Conformance for each shipment
- Testing and sampling for shipments
When it comes to monitoring your suppliers, it’s important to scorecard their performance based on specific questions/requirements for your company.
Each company is different in the behaviors they are trying to elicit from their suppliers, but we’ve found that the best scorecards are those that include metrics from:
- The purchasing process: How timely is the supplier’s acknowledgement of your PO?
- The COA: How well did the supplier meet your specifications?
- The receiving process: Does the product arrive when the supplier said it would arrive and are there any issues at receipt?
- The QA process: Does your testing validate the attributes your supplier told you they measured?
- The floor feedback process: How frequently is your supplier’s material involved with production-floor issues even though it may have cleared all previous hurdles?
- The documentation process: Is documentation submission timely and does it meet your requirements?
- Certifications: Is the supplier certified to a GFSI scheme, HACCP certified, or does the supplier simply have GMPs in place?
Have a Test Run
After suppliers are approved, it’s important to conduct a test run to ensure requirements will continuously be met. These test runs can include specific criteria similar to scorecarding metrics, like:
- COAs that verify specification compliance with each shipment
- Satisfactory quality inspections
- Consistent and on time deliveries
- Delivery trucks that consistently meet satisfaction
During the test run, it’s important to give them an ample amount of shipments/loads to determine compliance patterns and ensure requirements will be continually met. Once these items are found satisfactory, the supplier can then be added to the approved supplier list.
When it comes down to it, your reputation is on the line should something fall through the cracks, but ensuring approved procedures and processes are followed any time a new ingredient or supplier is being considered will greatly help to mitigate the risks involved.
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