Article contributed by Dhruv Kishore Bole
In the restaurant business, raw materials are of great importance. They are inextricably linked to the quality and safety of the food served, and hence to the customer’s well-being. Therefore, it is necessary to audit potential food suppliers before approving them.
A food safety audit is performed to ensure that the food supplier adheres to safe food handling practices and has established the necessary process controls to ensure the safety and quality of raw materials. The manner in which the food safety audit is conducted is largely influenced by the restaurant’s requirements and the management system that the potential food supplier has implemented, i.e. Food Safety Management System (FSMS) or Quality Management System (QMS).
In this article, we’ll look at how restaurant operators can prepare for audits of potential food suppliers.
Preparing for the Audit
To begin, restaurant operators must have a basic understanding of the food safety hazards associated with the raw materials used in menu items. Create Standard Purchase Specifications (SPS) for each ingredient, defining the quality and safety criteria for incoming raw materials. The following step is to create a Supplier Approval Policy as part of the Food Safety and Quality Policy outlining the criteria for approving potential food suppliers before awarding contract to the suppliers. When approving suppliers, a few factors should be kept in mind. Food suppliers must have a track record of providing high-quality and safe raw materials, implement a food safety management system or a quality management system, and adhere to national food safety regulations and industry standards. For example, if a specific raw material supplier is contracted to supply both allergic and non-allergic ingredients, it is worthwhile to audit the supplier’s facilities to verify how the supplier handles allergic and non-allergic products to avoid allergen cross contamination risk.
Before auditing a potential food supplier, it is vital to analyze the food supplier’s history of food safety complaints over the last two years. The next step is to decide whether the audit will be performed by the internal audit team or by an independent third-party auditing agency. If the restaurant does not have an internal audit team with required auditing experience, independent third party auditing body can be hired to audit the potential food supplier. If audit is done by the internal audit team, it is important to be proactive by planning audit well in advance. This will help in planning ahead of time, including understanding the supplier’s internal food handling practices, identifying high risk process steps, and identifying high to medium risk zones in the facility. If the supplier’s process is not well understood, there is a risk of overlooking specific areas that are critical for food safety. Supplier audits can be both announced and unannounced. In the case of an announced audit, the supplier must be notified well in advance of the audit. It should be noted that the supplier must be informed of the audit’s scope and agenda, as well as the audit timeline and audit team details. An unannounced supplier audit may also be conducted if the supplier has initiated any product recalls.
Conducting Food Safety Audit
Some of the areas that should be reviewed during a supplier audit are:
- Determine whether the supplier has consistently implemented the requirements of their food safety or quality management systems. Does the supplier adhere to the mandatory requirements of GHP and HACCP? Ask a copy of HACCP plan and evaluate the Critical Control Points (CCPs) that they have identified.
- Determine whether suppliers obtain raw ingredients from reputable sources and what quality control measures supplier has put in place for incoming materials. .
- Has the supplier put in place a cleaning and sanitation plan? Whether or not staff involved in cleaning and sanitation adhere to Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), and how frequently are food handling areas deep cleaned? How sanitary is the environment in the facility?
- Examine the presence of food safety culture. Conduct employee interviews to check whether employees have knowledge about food safety behaviors and how they manage situations where there is a deviation in the process. For example, what they do when walk in refrigerators that store food breaks down?
- As part of continuous improvement, determine how frequently employees are trained on food safety and how well training documents are kept on site. Are new hires who handle food but lack the necessary food safety knowledge being trained?
- Does supplier has food recall plan in place and how effective is the plan?
- How frequently supplier conducts internal audits and how non-conformances are closed?
- Examine the initiatives taken by the supplier in terms of continuous improvement.
- Who does the third-party audit for the supplier, and what are the results of the previous third-party audit report?
When the food safety audit is complete, share the audit findings with the supplier and discuss any major or minor non-conformance that was discovered. If there are few non-conformances ask the supplier to close them within a certain time frame. If there are numerous major non-conformances, it is best to choose another supplier. Remember effective communication is critical for establishing supplier participation, building a strong business relationship, and ensuring suppliers understand the restaurant company’s food safety objectives.
Conducting Test Run
The restaurant must conduct a test run after the food supplier has passed the audit. During the test run, an order is placed and supplier is asked to deliver raw materials, which is then reviewed for specification compliance and checked whether raw materials are delivered in a sanitary manner in accordance with food safety requirements.
Approving the Supplier and Awarding Contract
If the results of the test runs are positive, the supplier is awarded the contract. A supplier contract is written and signed by the restaurant representative, who is usually the purchasing officer, and the supplier. All contract specifications must be thoroughly discussed with the supplier to ensure that the supplier understands what the restaurant business expects. It is important to inform suppliers that their performance will be evaluated and recorded during their tenure with the restaurant. A separate supplier file must be prepared for each supplier which includes supplier contract documents such as contractual agreement, supplier’s business documents, audit and test run report and standard purchase specifications. A public health inspector or an auditing agency may request a supplier file for evaluation during inspections and audits.
For existing approved suppliers, the restaurant business can conduct an unannounced audit if it is discovered that raw materials are being delivered without any food safety controls. Raw materials being transported in unsanitary vehicles, food not being kept at the proper temperature, and expired food products being delivered are just a few of the food safety violations that restaurant’s receiving clerk keep an eye out for.
It is critical to recognize that simply developing a supplier approval policy would not reduce the restaurant’s food safety risks. Implementing the policy, regularly auditing suppliers, and engaging suppliers through effective communication is required to ensure that incoming raw materials meet the intended level of safety and quality and are free of food safety hazards.
Dhruv Kishore Bole is a hospitality and food safety specialist with qualifications in hotel management, food safety and quality management system. He has extensive experience spanning over twelve years in operational and training roles. His expertise centers on hospitality operation, food and beverage services and food safety. He has attended numerous workshops and conferences on customer service, leadership and food safety and quality and is certified by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India in food safety competencies. He is currently offering services in the capacity of Faculty, Food & Beverage service at State Institute of Hotel Management, Siddhpur, India. He is an empanelled trainer with Hero Mindmine and IL&FS Skills. He is a member of Quality Council of India and an instructor and proctor with ServSafe for India region.