The global nature of today’s supply chain means even the most stringent quality control measures might not be enough. Nowhere is this truer than in the food, beverage, and supplement industries. For these businesses, product safety depends primarily on the quality of the items and ingredients suppliers provide. The wrong item entering a company’s supply chain can be severe, resulting in wasted resources, increased costs, and reputation damage. An adequately managed supplier approval program reduces these risks and supports the development of solid business relationships.
In 2015, the FDA published two final rules: Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) and Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP). The two regulations shift some responsibility for food safety to food companies and importers by requiring supply chain partners to hold each other accountable. The requirements under both regulations run parallel, requiring verification when a supplier controls a hazard that can materially affect the food’s safety.
Supplier verification and monitoring are a big part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
9 steps for a strong supplier approval program
- Supplier approval checklist: A standardized supplier checklist is at the core of an effective supplier approval program. Creating a checklist allows your team to remain organized and efficient throughout the process. They should be used across departments to ensure responsible parties understand their roles, complete required tasks, and stay informed. Each company should put thought into the content of the checklist and how teams implement and maintain them.
- Supplier questionnaire: The supplier questionnaire aims to assess the supplier’s food safety and quality systems. Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards require a documented approval process for packaging, raw material, ingredient, and service suppliers. Additional requirements within the code include establishing supplier past performance and assigning a risk level to each material or service provided. In addition to these requirements, the questionnaire must include contact information for individual departments and responsible parties, QA safety parameters, third-party audits, COAs, and the vendor’s returned goods policy. The supplier must provide all the documentation and the questionnaire, including specifications, claims certificates, HACCP flow charts, etc. The Quality Assurance (QA) department must review the questionnaire to determine if the supplier meets company standards and requirements. QA can reject or approve the supplier or issue corrective actions that the supplier must act on to be approved.
- Specification management: A good supplier relationship begins by defining what you need from the supplier. The first step in the process is to build precise and complete specifications. And the most efficient way to do this is to work with the supplier. Unfortunately, many companies don’t fully utilize suppliers as collaboration partners when creating specifications. It’s essential to create unique specifications because if you don’t have them in place, chances are you’ll get an industrial specification available to anyone in the industry. And if that’s the case, how will you differentiate your product from your competitors?
- Single platform: A robust technology solution is necessary to manage the required supplier information effectively. Ideally, companies have a single platform to organize and digitize all suppliers, items, and ingredient information and documents. For example, it should contain information on names and codes for all items and ingredients, approved primary and alternate suppliers, the associated hazards for each ingredient or item, the methods used for approving suppliers and accepting ingredients, and a way to monitor supplier performance. Lastly, the platform should support the management of additional information and documents for allergens, claims, nutrition and labeling, lot or batch number coding, and anything else required to maintain compliance.
- Risk assessment: When conducting risk assessments, it’s vital to look at things like purchase volume. You also need to review any possible associated chemical, physical, or biological hazards that could cause contamination. Determining item risk can be facilitated by reviewing regulations and historical evidence. For example, an ingredient can be considered high risk if it’s an allergen, used at high volumes, or has potential for bio, physical, or chemical contamination.
- Qualification and acceptance: Supplier qualification requirements are situational. Using your risk assessment, you can determine the method needed for qualifying the supplier. The questionnaire might be enough if there’s a low risk associated with a particular supplier. You might need to conduct an audit if there’s a more inherent risk for a supplier. For your acceptance process to be effective, it must be consistent. You can choose different methods at different receiving points, with tasks like visual inspection, CoAs for each shipment, or testing and sampling.
- Test run: After a supplier is qualified, it’s crucial to conduct a test run. These test runs can include specific criteria like scorecard metrics, such as specification compliance with each shipment and satisfactory quality inspections. During the test run, giving the supplier adequate deliveries/loads is critical to determine compliance patterns and how well they can meet requirements.
- Approval: If the test run results are positive, it’s time to add the supplier to the approved supplier list. Companies must create a process for building and maintaining an approved supplier list. The list should include ingredients suppliers, food contact packaging, and services that impact food safety and quality, like sanitation and pest control. Everyone in the company must be aware of the list, and procedures should ensure all purchases go through approved suppliers.
- Monitoring (scorecard): Each company has different behaviors it wants to elicit from suppliers. But the best supplier performance scorecards include metrics from purchasing, CoAs, receiving, QA, plant floor feedback, certifications, and documentation compliance. Suppliers must know from the outset that their performance will be assessed and recorded.
When selecting a new supplier for your business, your company’s reputation is on the line. Building a solid supplier approval program and enforcing established procedures will significantly reduce the risk to your organization. Make sure to download our “9 Steps to a Strong Supplier Approval Program” eBook for more information.