Buying from reputable suppliers is a basic step for providing safe food and reducing food safety risks. Ensuring that your operation receives safe food from safe suppliers can also enhance the culture of food safety, improve ingredient consistency and quality, reduce waste, and drive down food costs, according to a recent webinar presented by the National Restaurant Association's Food Safety & Industry Relations department. “Safe Food Begins with Safe Suppliers, Part 2,” outlined how to conduct a supplier assessment and monitor supplier performance.
Noting that this process “doesn’t happen overnight,” presenter Ashley Miller described how operators can assess suppliers who provide them with high-risk ingredients (those that are both TCS (time and temperature control for safety) and RTE (ready-to-eat). Identifying those ingredients was explained in the second webinar in this series. Once those ingredients are identified, suppliers who provide those items should be assessed for their adherence to food safety practices.
Assessments may include a pre-approval questionnaire that is completed by the supplier. Typical questions include:
- Ingredient specifications (weight, color, size, etc.)
- Employee health and hygiene guidelines and training information
- HACCP documentation
- Support documents about food safety controls
- Copies of the results of regulatory inspections or third-party audits.
Suppliers could also provide a third-party certificate of analysis that confirms an ingredient was tested or a letter of guaranty that the supplier is compliant with all applicable regulations.
That may seem like a lot to ask for, but you may not need every piece of the above-mentioned information from every supplier. Every operator needs to decide how much documentation is enough, based on the risk of the ingredient and the level of risk your establishment is willing to accept.
Getting that information may also be a challenge. Miller noted that ways to improve your response rate include:
- Keeping your assessment questions clear, specific, and easy to complete
- Sending the assessment to the person responsible for food safety or quality assurance (not to your sales rep)
- Picking up the phone and talking to the supplier about the importance of completing and delivering the requested information.
Approving suppliers is a first step, but it’s not “one and done.” Suppliers and ingredients need to be periodically monitored to ensure that ingredients continue to conform to specifications. All employees can be trained to observe and note changes to ingredients, in areas including color, texture, smell, weight, or taste. Establishments should also routinely monitor regulatory notifications, recall notices, FDA warning letters, import alerts, and other alerts about ingredients and suppliers to make sure that there are no red flags about the organizations that provide their food.
“Safe Food Begins with Safe Suppliers, Part 2” was the third in a series of three webinars offered by the National Restaurant Association’s Department of Food Safety & Industry Relations this spring. To learn about upcoming webinars, visit www.foodsafetyfocus.com.