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Supplier management process is one of the most complex subjects that food safety teams must address

 

Last month the first article about supplier management was published. This is one of the most complex subjects that food safety teams must address and probably also one of the most time-consuming since it implies daily attention. According with the complexity of the organization and products managed, supplier management can assume a more or less critical role to guarantee food safety. Nevertheless, even in the smaller and simpler companies this process has always to be under the close attention of the food safety team.

This month the article is different from usual since its focus is not on how the different GFSI recognized schemes address an issue, but about sharing insights on the key steps where information can be gathered to fuel the supplier management process. Although services or packaging materials suppliers should also be controlled, the examples given on the article are more typical from raw-materials suppliers.

Organizations may use several sources of information to build this supplier management program (see below). The information may be obtained from external or internal sources. (A flow chart with the sources of information in each product process step will be sent to the members of Food Safety Books Connected on May 15.)

External Sources:

  • Suppliers
  • Official authorities and Databases
  • Costumer/consumer complaints

Internal Sources:

  • Product control during receiving
  • Product control during process/storage
  • Results from product analyses

 

Before a company becomes a supplier, the organization must request all the information believed necessary to know the product and trust the future supplier.

 

SUPPLIERS

 

The information provided by suppliers are of great importance and the starting point of any supplier management program. Before a company becomes a supplier, the organization must request all the information believed necessary to know the product and trust the future supplier. (Note: International suppliers introduce extra complexity to the process since, besides the probable language barrier, it will be harder for the organization to obtain information or even audit the supplier.) Another key aspect in obtaining timely information from the supplier is the fact that the sooner a problem can be identified, the cheaper it will be for the organization to solve it and with less reputational consequences.

Examples of information required can be:

  • Licenses: Guarantee that the future supplier complies with all the legal requirements
  • Product technical information: Description of the product and food safety requisites (e.g. ingredients, expiration period, sensory properties – appearance/colour, smell, texture – nutrition values, allergens, microbiological limits, chemical and physical properties, label content.)
  • Results from analytical control performed by the supplier (laboratory and/or methods should be accredited)
  • Certifications: If the future supplier is certificated according to a food safety system (particularly the ones GFSI benchmarked) the organization may request a copy from the certificate.
  • Audits / Questionnaires / Products flowchart and PCCs: The more the organization knows about the future supplier, the better prepared it will be to manage its products. Performing audits would be the best scenario to know the future supplier processes and understand them. When auditing is not possible, sending an Audit questionnaire (using for instance a Google® Docs forms) may be an alternative. Simpler Questionnaires may be used when the organization believes they are adequate due to the future supplier’s type of product or process. Requesting information about the processes flowcharts and defined PCCs may be also considered (Note: This information and even PCCs records are particularly relevant when some activities of the organization are subcontracted to the supplier).
  • Transport: It is important to know about any particular condition that must be preserved during transportation and the method used to guarantee it. The organization should also request information about the possibility of the transport being subcontracted.
  • Product samples: Sometimes the product itself may be the best source of information

 

Non-conformities identified during recieving may be promptly addressed and product returned to supplier

 

RECEIVING

 

Product control during receiving is crucial due to the fact that this is the moment when the product changes possession from supplier to buyer. Non-conformities identified at this stage may be promptly addressed (since internal responsibility may be left out of the analysis) and, if it is the case, the product can be returned to the seller before being stored or transformed. The information collected at this stage should be used in the supplier management process.

From the set of activities that aim at ensuring that all products purchased comply with the proper food hygiene and safety requirements during receiving, the most common are:

  • Certificates of conformity – guarantee that the goods were manufactured in compliance with specific regulations, that control points and prerequisite program were satisfied, a customer’s specification was met or that no deviations from required parameters occurred when the products were produced.
  • Vehicle cleanliness – The vehicle used to transport the product should be in good hygiene conditions at the moment of product unload.
  • Product temperature – The most common parameter controlled for products that require refrigerated or frozen storage temperatures. Nevertheless, other parameters may be defined according to the product’s characteristics.
  • Product label: The product label should contain all the information required by law and any other solicited by the organization to the supplier.
  • Packaging integrity: When the product is unloaded, it should be assessed that the packaging has not been damage and food safety compromised.
  • ·Perform product analyses: Product analyses that are considered relevant may be performed using methods that allow rapid results.

 

Employees must have training and be motivated to identify non-conformities

 

ORGANIZATION

 

Information relevant to supplier management can also be obtained in the period products are inside the organization. In the case of raw-materials this maybe the most relevant step since in most cases all the product can be (at least visually) assessed by production employees.

The main processes are:

  • Monitoring product during transformation: employees must have training and be motivated to identify non-conformities or alert to unusual characteristics presented by the raw-materials
  • Perform product analyses: During the raw-materials and end products storage time it is usual to perform analyses to access product safety and/or compliance with legal requirements. Chemical and microbiological analysis are commonly performed at this stage because of the typical long time necessary to obtain results.
  • Product control during vehicle loading: Particularly on retail organizations (e.g. Cash&Carry) loading vehicles can be a process that allows employees to see the product and eventually identify problems (e.g. packaging defects, missing or wrong labelling).

 

COSTOMER OR CONSUMER

 

The product is out of the organization control but it does not mean that information relevant for supplier management cannot be collected. Clients or consumers will use the product supplied and their complaints should be an important input. Of course that the causes of the complains shall be studied in detail since at this stage of the product process any nonconformity cannot be directly credited to suppliers.

 

OFFICIAL AUTHORITIES AND DATABASES

 

Organizations should rely also in other external sources of information to include in supplier management. For example, official authorities commonly publish alerts or have available information on their websites related with serious problems found during their inspection activities. Sometimes, even in common news (e.g. TV or newspapers) it is possible to collect information directly about the suppliers or the products supplied.

All the above information shall be gathered and included in the supplier management process. In order to guarantee a fair and objective evaluation of the different suppliers, the organization should develop a quantitative method. An example of a method will be sent to the members of Food Safety Books Connected on May 15.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this article is based on research done in the last months and the author personal experience and opinion. It is not intended to represent the view of any organization he works for or collaborate with. The author will not be held liable for the use or misuse of the information provided in the article.

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