Food Protection Connection: Your Foodservice Distributor - A Key Component of Food Safety
Each Food Protection Connection article is approved for 1 hr CE (sanitation) for CDM, CFPPs and 1 CPE hour (level 1) for RDs and DTRs.
Earn CE for this by purchasing a CE form in the Marketplace
FSIS Safety and Security Guidelines
for the Transportation and Distribution of Meat, Poultry, and Egg Products.
On-Farm Food Safety: Guide to Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs). Iowa State University Extension. October 2004
American Institute of Baking (AIB) www.aibonline.org/auditservices/
(reprinted from Dietary Manager, February 2009)
Foodservice distributors are companies that provide food and non-food products to all sorts of foodservice establishments. Most foodservice operators purchase from a range of local, specialty, and broadline distributors on at least a weekly basis. Distributors function as an intermediary between food manufacturers and the foodservice operator and can range in size from a one-truck operation to a massive corporation. However size doesn't matter where food safety is concerned, and foodservice distributors are a key component in the safety supply chain. They are responsible for implementing many of the same HACCP controls that operators do in order to keep food safe.
When we study food safety, we learn about the importance of keeping food safe during the "flow of food." We develop policies and procedures for controlling the safety of food at each step. The distributor is also responsible for food safety protocols in the “flow of food,” particularly in the purchasing, receiving, storage, and transportation of food. Distributors keep food safe by preventing cross contamination, and preventing time and temperature abuse—just as operators do.
The first rule for safe food purchasing is to buy from reputable suppliers. Operators trust that the distributor they use also follows this principle. Distributors need to require that suppliers carry liability insurance in case of food safety or product integrity issues. This protects the distributor as well as the customer in the event of an outbreak.
Growers and suppliers also need to be audited for physical, chemical, and microbiological attributes for their farm, packing or manufacturing facility. Every supplier that ships food through a distributor needs to have the following in place:
• SSOP—Sanitation & Standard Operating Procedures
• GMP—Good Manufacturing Practices
• GAP—Good Agricultural Practices
• Food Security Programs
• Food Recall Procedures
• Employee Training
Ground meat products are especially vulnerable to food safety concerns. In the industry today, suppliers are required to achieve strict food safety criteria in order to supply ground meat items (bulk ground beef, beef patties, meatballs, etc.). These include having a documented and implemented HACCP program in place, metal detectors and bone elimination systems in practical use, and a documented recall policy. In addition, all suppliers of ground meats must test all raw materials for the presence of E. coli 0157:H7 and have a pathogen intervention program in place.
Another area where operators can determine if a distributor has appropriate food safety practices in place is to inquire about Quality Assurance Programs. Does the distributor place its own inspectors in fields and processing plants that manufacture products that are sold under the distributor label? How does the distributor determine the safety of the products that they purchase?
Distributor warehouses are a Critical Control Point under HACCP guidelines. Do the warehouse managers inspect all products upon receipt and log all product temperatures according to these guidelines? Is fresh product inspected daily to make sure the product stays within guidelines for food safety and quality? How is food stored at the distributor’s warehouse? Is the warehouse kept clean and are storage rooms at the optimum temperature for food safety and quality? How is the warehouse inspected? What agency is responsible for the warehouse inspections and how does your distributor rate during those inspections? The answers to these questions can be a key factor in determining the safety of the food that is shipped to you.
One of the agencies that inspects food warehouses is the American Institute of Baking (AIB). They inspect and audit HACCP procedures and look at five major areas:
• The adequacy of the sanitation program
• Pest control
• Operational methods (how food is handled during receiving, storage, and shipping)
• Maintenance of the warehouse to insure food safety
• Cleaning practices
Asking for a tour of your distributor’s warehouse and information on how they do on inspections can also help you determine whether your distributor has good food safety practices in place and is in compliance with regulations. The local office of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the local health department also inspect distributors on a regular basis.
Are all deliveries shipped from refrigerated docks to prevent products from being held in the temperature danger zone while trucks are loaded? Are all delivery trucks equipped with state-of-the-art refrigeration and freezer units capable of maintaining food at proper temperatures during shipment? There should be separate compartments in place for refrigerated and frozen products. Are trucks kept clean so that the food cases are clean when they are delivered to you? Do the drivers stack products correctly to minimize contamination during unloading?
What are your distributor’s return policies? Distributors are implementing stricter policies that prevent them from restocking any product that may be a food safety issue. Even though this can be an inconvenience for an operator, it is an important safeguard in the supply chain. Most distributors today will not allow potentially hazardous food to be returned once the driver has left, so it is important to inspect all items upon receipt. Products must also be in the original packaging and free from damage or tampering. These procedures are in place to protect the integrity and safety of the food while in transport.
Asking how your distributor trains their drivers and warehouse personnel is also a key to determining their commitment to food safety. Are employees trained on proper handling methods to prevent cross-contamination and protect product integrity during delivery? How much training do they receive? Are drivers trained for efficiency so that they minimize the unloading time? This prevents time and temperature abuse of the food being delivered.
In addition to drivers and warehouse personnel, does your distributor train the sales staff in food safety? Training all employees in food safety is an indication that a distributor is committed to the safety of the products they deliver to their customers, and they value the resource that your sales representatives can be for you if they are also well trained in food safety concepts and procedures.
Distributors are responsible for removing product from the distribution system in the event of a recall. Does your distributor have a recall communication plan in place? How is your distributor alerted when a recall is issued? How are you notified? What is the procedure for returning or discarding a recalled product? These are all important things to discuss with your supplier.
Most foodservice operators trust that the distributor they have chosen will keep food they need safe while in the storage and delivery process. However, asking for information on a distributor’s food safety procedures can assist an operator in assuring that they have done everything they can to keep the food served to clients safe.
Colleen Zenk, MS, CDM, CFPP is Healthcare Services Supervisor and Food Safety Educator for Sysco Minnesota, St. Paul, MN. Contact her at Zenk.email@example.com.