Prerequisites for effective food packaging safety improvements

By Gary Kestenbaum in Food Safety on January 20, 2015

Tap your own resources and apply these six lessons learned in packaging-related food safety considerations and you will likely have no shortage of ideas to use.

 

Welcome to the New Year, readers!  Allow me to wish you all a safe and productive 2015. In my last article, I promised you that I would provide some guidance on risk response and control  in this installment of the food packaging safety column.

However, I’d like to push that discussion to a future article and instead use this article to share my thoughts on some recent personal experiences that relate to important process prerequisites.

Food and food safety-related calamities are happening constantly. Some of you working in the quality organization of your respective companies may subscribe to a service that notifies you of industry-related safety and quality-related events. Others may find that out through regulatory and organizational websites. In all likelihood, the average reader will only find out about a fraction of those incidents because many are not publicized either in a timely manner or at all. I don’t want to appear to be an alarmist, but we quality and safety consultants receive a steady stream of communications requesting assistance with crises, conundrums and solutions to food and packaging safety “hiccups.”

 

Tap your company’s own resources

I can’t offer you crystal balls or magic wands, but I can provide some sage advice which I hope will reduce overall food safety risks within your respective organizations.  There is untold value in communication and ideation with your colleagues, consultants and customers.  Effective solutions begin with defined, organized and documented objectives. No one person thinks of everything. Exchanging thoughts, ideas, risk platforms, critical properties, test methods, committee objectives, packaging safety program interpretations, gaps, and so forth with involved colleagues and related functions (operations, safety, regulatory, quality, procurement, and applicable others) adds value and insight to each operation. These are only a few of the many relevant and fruit-bearing subjects that will help you to identify needs and “what if’s” in order to assist in addressing the identification and management of food safety packaging risk. 

There is commonality among what appear to be obvious “lessons learned” that evolve out of root-cause analyses.  If you consider these items and apply them to your areas of responsibility with a reasonable level of urgency and priority BEFORE the problem occurs, you will likely have no shortage of ideas to consider for application.

Experience doesn’t just tell me, it screams at me with urgency that prime causes of costly food safety issues occur due to:

• Under-anticipating obvious risk—could have been foreseen or expected on some level

• Complacency—“We’ve been doing this for years without an issue? I’ve got more important areas to spend my time.”

• Under-resourcing—putting all of your quality and safety budget against “this” risk and then “that” risk, which went largely untouched, rears up to cause a food or packaging safety event

• Under-documenting—everything under the sun has been considered and discussed, but no one documents it!

• Disorganization—we document everything, but not in an effective manner where all involved parties have an opportunity to digest it

• Lack of training, seminars and meetings, or failure to use allotted time to engage employees and assess understanding, competency and compliance

The central themes among these examples are communication, ideation, organization and documentation. What do they all have in common?  They are forms of “sharing” and prudent, sensible sharing will result in new ideas, new spins on old ideas and, from my experience, generate a heightened level of interest in identifying and mitigating risk.

Apply these precepts and create a list of subjects to discuss within your own group, team, function or location. Consider subjects such as process gaps, omissions, and continuing areas of safety and quality neglect among your colleagues. Rank the items based on likelihood and severity. Rate corrective action ideas by degrees of difficulty (creation, maintenance, and enforcement).  

Most projects become more manageable and objectives achievable following development of a framework for teamwork, communication, ideation, organization and documentation.  

Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts and experiences with you now. I look forward to getting back to the agenda with my next article, when we will be discussing specific risk responses and control.

 

Gary Kestenbaum has 40 years’ experience in the food and packaging industries, six as a supplier with National Starch, 18 as a product developer with General/Kraft Foods and 15 as a packaging engineer and developer with Kraft. In his current position as senior food packaging safety consultant with EHA Consulting Group, Kestenbaum provides guidance on packaging safety and suitability-related projects for raw material manufacturers, converters and associated supporting professionals. He can be reached at [email protected] or 410-484-9133.

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