At Alfa Argentina, we have always had a strong commitment to the safety and quality of our products. We supply ingredients for the entire food industry, from huge multinationals to small local businesses. Therefore, we understand the important role we play in food safety, regardless of what our clients’ food safety requirements might be.
Two years ago, we concluded the construction of a brand-new production plant, to replace the old facilities we used to work in. This was an important milestone in our history, and we leveraged it as a renewed commitment towards certifying a Food Safety Management System.
Once in the new plant, we worked to improve our HACCP plan and got it certified. The next step was to achieve certification against one of the GFSI-recognised certification programmes.
The plan looked great on PowerPoint, but we soon realised that this new “step” was actually a huge jump. This is where GFSI’s Global Markets Programme came in. By transparently listing some of the GFSI requirements in an easy-to-use check-list, it was the tool we needed to split that giant step into smaller ones.
The Global Markets Programme has an incremental approach that allowed us to work at our own pace, working on each requirement and solving obstacles one at a time.
It is about how you do the work to get to a certification. That is where the Global Markets Programme shows a clear pathway, a recognised pathway. We got access to new clients by walking that path. We got to win Global Market Award for the LATAM region as well. It is great to be awarded for the work done, and not just for results.
One of the biggest resistances we had to face was our own versatile working culture. But wait, versatile and flexible people should be more receptive towards change and less resistant, shouldn’t we? We are, and the obstacle was rooted in a paradigm. We used to imagine that any certifiable working system involving structured procedures and rigid responsibilities, would necessarily bring undesired bureaucracy and maim our ability to overcome daily problems in a creative way.
The challenge here was to prove to ourselves that some structured procedures work as tools that lead us to longer-term solutions, saving us time and effort while leaving our creativity free to be invested in improvement. A clear example of this is the treatment of non-conformities through root cause analysis. Implementing this basic tool had a great impact in showing that it is not about just filling out a form. It can really get you to think through a problem a little deeper, and maybe solve it in a way that you don’t have to face it again.
So we can say that the tools of continuous improvement were key to overcome the paradigm of Structured Procedures vs Versatile Creativity. We now work with procedures that prevent many of the issues that we had to face every day, and we can still be creative at finding opportunities for continuous improvement.
The Global Markets Programme tool that we used most, was the checklist itself. It was most useful to be able to use the exact same checklist during our self-assessments that third parties and buyers did. You could follow the progression between the result of every assessment (internal or external), since the checklist has an automatic and very clear scoring system. We even made that score one of our main KPIs for last year.
Periodically, that KPI was used to show progression to the top management, but we also shared it with the operational level employees. It was a good practice to reinforce commitment and to reveal how everyone’s work was moving us forward.
To make sure that everyone “owns” the growing results of implementation, was key to generating culture. We were not just meeting some client’s requirements; we were improving the way we work.
Last but not least, through the Global Markets Programme we learned a different way of working in food safety. What used to be an internal activity became an interactive process involving benchmarking with suppliers, clients and even competitors. It was very important for us to work with our client Quickfood, who introduced us to the Global Markets Programme. They provided us constant support, benchmarking sources against a sophisticated FSMS and even shared training with our personnel.
This collaborative spirit was just a sample of what I experienced during the GFSI Conference in Nice. Speakers and contents during the conference are top level, and so is networking. But what really was revealing to me, was the non-competitive spirit.
It is true that this community views food safety as a non-competitive topic. I saw it. I saw a community of professionals working to advance the vision of safe food for consumers everywhere. We are proud to do our part in this community.
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