Over a period of three years, Colony Brands Inc. has undergone a food safety transformation.

As a result, the Monroe-based mail order catalog provider of cheese, meat and pastry items has come to realize the discipline needed to sustain food safety initiatives. Colony Brands was certified to Food Safety System Certification 22000 standard in 2011 and has been on a path of continuous improvement ever since.

“It is beginning to evolve into the very fabric of how we conduct our business,” said Vanita Baumgartner, director of food operations at Colony Brands.

“At first, the journey was a struggle just attempting to align all of the areas that are implicated in a total quality control program. It was as if we were feeding the system but not really living the system. Sort of like feeding the monster whose demands were unquenched.  Now we have rounded the corner and we have morphed into a company that demands the monster serve us.”

baumgartnerFood Safety System Certification (FSSC) is designed to provide a high degree of confidence that food safety management systems are adequately designed, implemented and maintained.

Suppliers can benefit from the concept of “once certified, accepted everywhere” since certificates gained from an audit of any Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) -recognized program are accepted by most international, national and regional retailers and suppliers.

Baumgartner said the company wants its systems to be robust and sustainable. The very essence of food safety programs is to make food supplies safe and wholesome, she added.

“We may have been timid and bashful in the beginning. But as we built the program I see every day now where various process owners rely heavily on their programs to deliver exactly what they want,” Baumgartner said.

Food safety program initiatives have jumped to the forefront after President Barack Obama signed into law in 2011 the Food Safety Modernization Act, classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as the most sweeping food safety reform in more than 70 years.

The law gives the FDA a broader range of authority as well as the resources necessary for enforcement.

Certification to the GFSI standards has become mandatory for food manufacturers to sell and to compete in the market. GFSI requires food suppliers to achieve factory audit certification to meet recognized standards, which include Safe Quality Food (SQF), British Retail Consortium (BRC) and FSSC 22000.

The GFSI standards combine the benefits of a business management tool linking food safety and business processes with the ability to meet growing global customer requirements for a Global Food Safety Initiative-recognized supplier food safety system certification.  The standards stipulate senior management commitment and require organizations to analyze customer requirements, define processes and demonstrate consistent control over identified hazards, updating and improving the system to adapt to changes in process, requirements or regulations.

Certification provides real value to an organization irrespective of size or complexity and levels the playing field for suppliers and buyers throughout the food chain and around the world.

“Food safety certification evaluates the overall effectiveness and maturity of an organization’s food safety management system,” said Anjan Reddy, technical director for refrigerated cheese spreads at Chicago-based Bel Brands USA, which operates a plant in Little Chute.

“The purpose of the system is to demonstrate conformity and compliance, to provide a basis for continuous improvement and to demonstrate the food safety culture within the food business organization.”

The food safety management systems certification process allows food manufacturers to have an external view of the system that is implemented.

“This external sight brings us insurance that we comply with the guideline or standard we decided to follow, and helps us to improve our system,” said Eric Bierny, general manager at Galactic Inc., a Belgium-based company focused on lactic acid fermentation and the development of other derivatives. Galactic operates a production plant in Milwaukee.

“It also makes our customer more confident as our system is third-party audited, so they do not have to bear the cost of organizing a customer audit.”

DeiningerMore and more manufacturers and retailers are requesting GFSI-recognized certification from their suppliers, said John Deininger, quality assurance manager and food safety team leader at Didion Milling Inc., an agricultural processing business in Johnson Creek.

“It’s the global standard in food safety and quality,” Deininger said.

Implementing FSSC at Didion has strengthened the company’s existing food safety management system through greater discipline among team members as well as increased awareness throughout the facility and with suppliers, Deininger said.

Contact Peg Dorn for information regarding WMEP’s next session providing assistance in obtaining food safety certification as well as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) training.