KANSAS CITY — Maintaining sanitary conditions and verification of processes through documentation are some of the top things to be prepared for during an inspection.

Also at the top of the list: having all your documents organized and readily available, and having the ability to effectively communicate the details of your programs and documentation.

“Maintaining sanitary conditions is crucial in any industry, especially when it comes to food safety,” said Candy Lucas, senior food safety director for Kieler, Wis.-based PSSI, a leading food safety and contract sanitation provider. “There’s a lot to manage in food processing plants and retailers, such as personal hygiene, allergen control, cleaning of storage areas, chemical monitoring and maintenance and pest control.”

Having proper documentation and being able to show verification of your processes and procedures to ensure you’re following compliance, she said, will help you be prepared and set you up for success in your food safety audits.

As PSSI continues to evolve to promote best practices in food safety, regulations continue to change, said Jillian Smith, food safety manager of the company’s F.A.S.T. team. It’s important, she said, to have a team of experts to monitor these changes and help implement them in your facilities. 

“Another change we’re seeing is that customer demands and expectations are evolving,” Smith said. “Customers expect more from retailers and food production facilities on food safety and transparency of the entire process from farm to table.

COVID brought to light some additional best practices inside and outside the workplace, she added. Those practices begin with educating personnel on proper handwashing, good housekeeping, and cleaning as well as mitigation strategies such as in-depth cleaning of communal/welfare areas. 

While obviously not new to the industry, the pandemic, she said, reinforced the importance and awareness of them.

Pest management’s role 

Building the right programs and training for employees are two important elements for compliance, said Pat Hottel, technical director for McCloud Services, South Elgin, Ill.

“McCloud’s service specialists receive extensive training in a variety of food safety topics,” she said.

That training includes education regarding food safety pathogens and the pests that can transmit them. McCloud remains up to date with all federal, state, and local food regulations and establishes pest management programs in line with its clients’ individual audit and regulatory needs. 

Identifying needs and developing and executing the programs helps ensure food safety inspection readiness, Hottel added. Proper documentation weighs heavily in those inspections, and McCloud excels in this area by designing documentation packages which are compliant and well organized. In addition, the company is available to be onsite during audits and inspections when requested.

“We’re a full-service company that provides a variety of both non-chemical and chemical control solutions for structural pests,” Hottel said. 

That includes pest exclusion services, which help prevent pest entry. McCloud has several entomologists on staff who develop and provide training programs to its internal staff, as well as offering training to the company’s clients. 

Successful pest management involves participation and partnership with clients, Hottel said. Educating them helps facilitate and develop that partnership, through client newsletters, training classes and with one-on-one communication with our service specialists during the pest management service.

Pest management is a pillar of food safety, Hottel said. Several common structural pests such as mice, filth flies, cockroaches and birds are capable of vectoring pathogens like food-borne illness. It’s critical, she said, for grocery retailers and their suppliers to establish an effective program to prevent and control them.

But it’s important to choose a product, and a company, that doesn’t introduce new food safety problems at the same time it’s solving a pest problem.

“Professionally, I use the medical analogy of the Hippocratic oath: ‘Do no harm,’” Hottel said. “Materials and procedures selected to remedy the pests must take into consideration food safety as well. This means following food safety hygienic practices for our personnel and selecting control tools with food safety risks understood.”

The right team for the right job

Amanda Fryar, PSSI’s divisional food safety manager, said the company’s food safety programs benefit from being comprised of highly educated and expertly trained regulatory and technical experts that work with the company’s customers to stay in compliance.

That includes conducting routine internal food safety assessments and ensuring they’re audit-ready at any time through PSSI’s proactive sanitation assessments, Real-Time Performance Metrics (RPM), and documentation.

“There is a big push from GFSI and FDA to drive a food safety culture within your organization,” Fryar said. “It’s becoming more of a requirement in certain audits to ensure that your documentation supports your efforts in promoting your food safety culture company wide.”