The global pandemic has directly or indirectly led to significant shifts in global food supply chains, including disruptions to once streamlined and efficient supplier relationships and large fluctuations in once stable workforces.
Each of these areas of concern for companies across the food supply chain can be successfully addressed through independent assurance, delivered by food safety management systems (FSMS) certification.
Having robust systems and processes is a road map for organisations to follow when navigating the changing risk landscape in a post pandemic world. Independent certification of those systems and processes enables companies to meet supplier, employee, and consumer requirements. Food safety certification verifies that an organisation’s FSMS conforms to standardised requirements. Certification also assesses the ability of an FSMS to identify and manage risk.
While stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, and the inability to conduct on-site audits have led to the widespread use of remote technology to assess food safety management systems, the pandemic has also impacted food safety certification by altering the nature of risk and the likelihood of certain risks occurring. The supply chain material and people shortages are also forcing businesses to look at familiar risks in new ways.
These supply chain disruptions are being felt across the global food supply chain, particularly in the food manufacturing space. Long-term suppliers can no longer be counted on, as they often cannot access raw materials or are experiencing an exodus of employees. This existential threat to companies at the top of the food chain requires them to find new suppliers, new materials and operate in new geographies.
As a food certification body, we must be able to evaluate the effectiveness of FSMSs to manage these and other potential changes to food industry supply chains that, in the current climate, can happen suddenly and without warning. Key questions to ask include:
- How robust are the organisation’s procurement and risk assessment processes?
- How are new supply regions introducing new hazards (e.g., mycotoxins)?
- How effective is a new supplier’s food safety controls?
Processes that were introduced prior to the pandemic to account for these and other considerations may no longer be sufficient — this is a major challenge facing both food industry firms and those tasked with the job of assurance.
Supply chain disruption is not the only challenge facing the food industry thanks to the pandemic, though. The so-called “Great Resignation” — the ongoing economic trend which has seen employees voluntarily resign from their jobs en masse — is also a big contributor.
In the food industry, a large number of vacancies has resulted in a significant reduction in production volume. While firms have scrambled to fill vacancies by scaling up recruitment efforts, this has placed pressure on processes that are designed to assess and ensure employee competency.
As a food safety certification body, we also need to evaluate the effectiveness of FSMSs to manage these changes and their associated risks. Key questions to ask include:
- Has the organisation lost institutional knowledge?
- Is there a need for better knowledge management or documented information?
- Are food safety inductions and training able to keep up with demand?
- Are contractors being used to bridge gaps?
The ability to successfully manage unprecedented change will be a determining factor in the global food supply chain of tomorrow. The rapid and constant pace of change and uncertainty across that supply chain is raising the importance of robust and transparent systems and processes. Certification bodies can help organisations manage their risks and focus on opportunities.