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ISO 22000 in the retail industry - A matter of integration

by Achraf Tiouali on
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Several publications have highlighted how ISO 22000 on food safety management stands out from other international standards on food safety control in terms of the advances it has brought about in hazard analysis.

Indeed, the identification of critical control points and operational prerequisite programmes is the key issue discussed in this standard. The management dimension, however, is still underestimated despite being given considerable importance in the standard. Its importance is more acute in large enterprise with a highly complex organizational structure. Such companies have a large number of divisions and departments, causing a dilution of the activities that have an impact on food safety. Management is crucial here for coordinating activities, both at a vertical and horizontal level, in order to achieve the ultimate goal : supplying safe products.

The managerial dimension

This is precisely why the management dimension needs to be taken seriously when implementing ISO 22000:2005, Food safety management systems - Requirements for any organization in the food chain, not only at quality management level but throughout the company. In fact, large-scale retail provides a perfect example of the complexities of food safety control and, ultimately, of the difficulty of implementing ISO 22000.

food

Food safety in the retail industry involves several divisions, units and departments which are coordinated by the quality department. At the horizontal level, these entities include, among others, the food purchasing department, the human resources department, the technical services department, the marketing department and the finance department. And at the vertical level, they naturally include the sales department, which oversees the regional offices, themselves made up of several stores.

A role for each managerial function

It is essential, when designing and implementing a food safety management system, to understand the role of each corporate department and its link with food safety. So, for example, it is the purchasing department’s responsibility, among other things, to look after the business relationship with suppliers and introduce new product references. This implies working in collaboration with the quality department, which, in turn, must implement a process for selecting, evaluating and monitoring its suppliers to ensure full control of the safety of food products delivered by suppliers and displayed on store shelves. This is unfortunately not always the case, and, in the absence of proper supplier control, products unknown to the quality department are sometimes sold in stores.

The technical department, on the other hand, is responsible for purchasing the refrigerating equipment, deciding where it will be installed in the stores and ensuring its maintenance. To this end, and in order to comply with good hygiene practice for store facilities and equipment, the technical manager must work hand in hand with the quality manager, especially regarding the intended use of the refrigeration equipment and the planning and execution of technical maintenance activities. For instance, refrigerated shelves with a 0-4 °C temperature range cannot be used for meat products, in particular mincemeat (0-2 °C). Yet it is not unusual to find refrigerating systems that are unfit for their intended use in the store.

Management commitment

Effective implementation of a food safety management system in large-scale retail begins with a commitment from senior management. Here, the quality manager plays a major role since he/she must convince top management of the merits of the approach and demonstrate the added value of the system. Aligning the project with the company’s strategy is fundamental to obtaining success. In order to gain management’s trust and support, the system implementation project must be seen as a translation of the company’s overall strategy. For example, a company-focused strategy based on efficiency is not really compatible with the implementation of an ISO 22000 system, which is, by nature, focused on customer satisfaction.

Conversely, a strategy based on satisfying the needs of existing and future customers, enabling the company to gain an edge over the competition, might find in the food safety management system the perfect operational and continual-improvement tool. Having committed itself to implementing the system, senior management must then ensure the information is disseminated throughout the company. This is critical for preparing staff to get involved in the process.

Efficient communication

Horizontal and vertical integration, backed by senior management, is facilitated by effective internal communication. The relevant parties dealing with food safety control within the company must be identified and communication flows established. For example, effective communication between the marketing department and the quality department would help avoid plant schematics that are likely to affect food safety (for example cross-contamination by allergens from shelves reserved for non-food products). Vertical communication, in particular between the quality department and the store, is crucial in that it helps the system design process and enables the quality department to establish the procedures and tools that are best suited to the actual store, without losing sight of the commercial purpose.

Perfect coordination

Food safety is an implicit requirement for the sale of foodstuffs. In the retail industry, food safety management is the province of the quality management department, which has the necessary competencies in the field. Converting such management activities into a proper management system requires perfect coordination throughout the retail company of the activities impacting on food safety.

This type of coordination is referred to above as “horizontal and vertical integration” and, as such, requires an extra set of skills, in addition to the technical competencies, in order to implement a food safety management system. Leadership skills, for instance, are essential as the ability to convince and influence internal stakeholders, in particular senior management, is a condition for the system’s efficiency. Marketing and communication skills are also important as they help the people involved engage in the process.

Besides, an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the company’s strategy helps to achieve company-wide integration of the food safety policy. Other competencies in human resources, operational management and finance can also be added. All these disciplines give food safety control a true management dimension, which is particularly emphasized in ISO 22000. As a result, this standard provides the retail industry with a real opportunity to make food safety control more professional and expand it to other disciplines that are vital in order to succeed in today’s business world.

Achraf Tiouali
Achraf Tiouali
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Consulting Manager
Mérieux Nutrisciences
France