Food Safety: Make the Most of Your Self-Assessment
No matter what type of food safety program your operation has, a self-assessment is an important component. All GFSI-benchmarked standards (such as GLOBALG.A.P., PrimusGFS, SQF, and BRC) require a self-assessment to be performed at least annually.
Do not look at the self-assessment as “another thing to be done”, but as an opportunity to give your entire food safety program a vital review. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your self-assessment.
- Team up. The more eyes you have looking at your processes during a self-assessment, the more you will see. Just like it is almost impossible to effectively proof-read your own writing (because you’ll aways see what you meant to say instead of what is actually written), it can be very hard to assess your own food safety program. At least one person on the team should be the trained expert, likely the Food Safety Manager, but the rest of the team can vary quite a bit. It is good to have people with “boots on the ground” involved, since they can tell you if the policy matches the practice. However, completely fresh eyes, from say, someone in administration, may prompt questions you have been overlooking or failed to consider. And the team doesn’t have to be the same for all aspects of the self-assessment—no need to keep a warehouse manager tied up for field-harvest portions of the self-assessment, for example.
- Be sure to conduct the self-assessment while relevant activities are taking place. Really watch what happens in daily activities to ensure that your policy is aligned with actual practices. You may need to conduct certain portions of the self-assessment at different times of the day or even different times of the year. Be sure that your self-assessment is conducted before your audit, and, vitally, far enough in advance to sufficiently address any non-conformances you identify.
- As you conduct your self-assessment, be sure to focus on the process not the product. For example, a bin of apples may look great, but did you witness the process of harvesting this bin of apples to make sure all food safety risks were mitigated to the best extent possible? Even better than observing a good result (such as the nice bin of apples) is a chance to observe what is done when something goes wrong—how do the workers react, are they trained in what to do, did the process work to catch the problem?
- Document, document, document. As we say in food safety, if it isn’t documented it didn’t happen! In a self-assessment especially, documentation is vital (and required by most schemes). Go by the standard point-by-point and document evidence that each requirement is being met. Non-conformances MUST be well-documented. Be sure to document who is responsible for each required corrective action, and the timeframe within which it is to be completed. And of course, FOLLOW UP! Make sure the corrective actions effectively addressed the non-conformances that were found.
- Communicate to Management. A self-assessment that never leaves the food safety office does not have nearly the power of a self-assessment whose results are communicated to management. Although it may not be pleasant, management really does want to know where operational improvements can be made. Every operation can develop blind spots, but an effective self-assessment can identify and correct these. Additionally, it is far better to learn of these opportunities from an internal self-assessment (and it’s corresponding corrective actions) than from a third-party auditor where consequences can be greater. Some of the non-conformances identified by the food safety self-assessment may be indicative of broader issues across the operation.
Conducted correctly, a self-assessment can be the most powerful component of a food safety plan. This “check-up from the neck up” can get you in great shape for your audit and, more importantly, bring meaningful improvements to your operation.
About Kellie Worrell
Kellie Worrell has an extensive background in Agriculture and Food Safety. She has written several accurate ag children’s books, including the Virginia Ag In the Classroom Book of the Year. She has served as Food Safety Officers for farms with a wide variety of fresh vegetables, and is currently the GLOBALG.A.P. Scheme Manager at Ceres Certifications, International (CCI). CCI offers a wide range of food safety certifications. For more information visit ceresci.com.
About Ceres Certifications, International
Ceres Certifications, International (CCI) has been serving the produce industry since 2021. CCI offers a wide variety of 3rd party food safety certifications, including both GFSI-benchmarked standards and more basic audits. Connect with its experienced Scheme Managers to discuss the extensive CCI offerings, including GLOBALG.A.P. IFA, HPSS, PHA, localg.a.p., a variety of GG add-ons, PrimusGFS, PrimusStandard, SQF, and more. Learn more.