Risk assessments are emerging as one of the best tools QA and facility managers in food processing, storage, distribution and transportation have in their pest management and food safety tool box.
The importance of prevention in audit compliance and meeting FSMA mandates is reiterated to everyone responsible for keeping a food facility as well as the modes of transportation free of threats from pests and other adulteration.
QA and facility management and their pest management partners need to focus on those things that can bring or attract pests to their facility.
They must address, “What are the risks? Which physical areas of the facility are at most risk for pest infestation? What manufacturing processes or plant protocols place the facility at a higher risk level?
A rigorous and thorough risk assessment will include data on types of raw ingredients being brought in, how a facility’s sanitation protocols and inventory rotation are managed, the exterior landscape or types of neighboring facilities – all these factors and more.
“Risk is temporal and is influenced by time, location and conducive conditions found within an account,” says Jeff Weier, technical director for Sprague Pest Solutions. “Risk is not static, it is variable and this must be considered when designing and implementing a pest management program.”
For example, a vegetable processing plant can be idle for all but three months a year but this doesn’t mean that pests can’t be active or pose a threat during the offseason. If sanitation or exclusion protocols aren’t followed during peak processing times, food and waste products can be left behind in or under equipment, and pests will thrive.
Modes of transportation – trucks, railcars, ships, airplanes – also present a significant risk due to their vulnerability to pest infestation during the journey from farm to processing facility to consumer.
An uncovered semi-trailer full of grain sitting adjacent to the loading dock at a grain mill for two or three hours waiting to be unloaded could be exposed to bacteria-laden bird droppings from a nesting site located on an exposed beam above the dock.
Weier says food processing facilities conducting regular risk assessments address these key operational areas:
• Pest-free environment
• Brand protection
• Food safety
• Audit/GFSI compliance
• FSMA compliance
• Reduces risk
A risk assessment is not meant as a “gotcha report” on a facility’s shortcomings but rather a business tool that can improve performance and mitigate risk from threats to the integrity of the food products produced, stored or shipped from the facility.
Typical risk assessments focus on collecting data for:
• Meeting applicable standards (FDA, FSMA, state, etc.)
• Control measures
• Monitoring procedures
• Corrective actions
• Records and documentation
Depending on the specific goods produced or stored in the facility, elements of a risk assessment can be added or deleted depending on needs.
There are two important things to remember when conducting a risk assessment says Weier:
• Items identified in the assessment as needing improvement or correction MUST be done. A risk assessment is not simply a way to spend a few hours but instead is a way to improve your operation’s performance and help you be audit ready.
• Verification vs. Validation. It is one thing to verify that you identified and addressed an issue within your facility but another thing to validate that the corrective actions you took solved the issue permanently. Auditors and consumers want results.