Supplier Management


As a manufacturer of food, it is very important to know where your ingredients and packaging materials come from. The safety and quality of food depends on the components used to make it. To help ensure safe food production, use only suppliers who can provide ingredients, packaging and services that meet your company's food safety standards. The quality of suppliers' ingredients has a direct impact on food businesses. While cost is important, food processors must also consider the suppliers' ability to provide reliably safe, quality products on time. Receiving unsafe or substandard products can cost your plant money for many reasons such as causing production downtime, decreased product shelf life or food recalls. 

Supplier Approval Programs

Supplier approval programs are a part of quality assurance systems to ensure ingredients and packaging materials are safe to use and fit for the purpose they are intended. Supplier approval programs should include:

  • the need to qualify or approve suppliers before purchasing
  • requirements a supplier must meet to be approved (ex: follow documented Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) or have third-party certification)
  • methods and frequency of supplier monitoring — (ex: supplier audits, questionnaires, certificate of analyses verification)
  • ways to deal with negative supplier issues

A supplier approval program can strengthen your relationship with a supplier.  It is important that both establish clear expectations, such as product specifications, shipping conditions and labelling requirements. These expectations need to be mutually agreed upon and routinely checked to ensure they are continually being met. 

HACCP and Supplier Approval Programs

Supplier approval programs support the HACCP philosophy that prevention is key for food safety. Preventing a shipment of contaminated or substandard ingredients to a facility makes more sense than trying to correct the effects of a bad shipment. During the hazard analysis phase of HACCP plan development, suppliers and the ingredients they provide must be closely examined. This is done by listing all incoming materials and ingredients used in manufacturing and determining the associated hazards. If unapproved suppliers are used, it is impossible to anticipate the possible hazards that may be lurking in your ingredients and result in an inadequate HACCP plan.

Documentation

Many supplier approval programs require that a current letter of continuing guarantee is on file and/or a certificate of analysis (COA) is provided for each lot received in a facility.

Letter of continuing guarantee: These usually state that products are made under sanitary conditions, packaging materials are approved for food contact and government regulations and other company standards are met.  It is advisable to get a letter from suppliers before agreeing to use their products and have the letters updated annually. 

Areas to consider in the letter of continuing guarantee are:
  • Ingredients — fresh condition, odour-free, discolouration or signs of spoilage, and use of proper temperature control
  • Packaging —food-grade packaging free from biological, chemical and physical contaminants
  • Labelling —labels comply with Health Canada requirements
  • Transportation — clean, no incompatible materials, adequate temperature control

Certificate of analysis (COA): These usually provide test data (ex: microbial results, moisture content, protein) with no reference to the condition that the product was manufactured under. Sometimes a COA is required before the ingredients or packaging materials are accepted at the facility. 

If ingredients are accepted on the basis of a COA, a program should be in place that outlines a procedure to spot check incoming goods. It is important to periodically test the accuracy of the supplier's results. This may include in-house testing or sending samples to an accredited laboratory. The tests may include quality tests such as viscosity, or safety tests such as pathogen or chemical residue testing. The program should state the frequency of spot checks, procedures for sampling and required sample sizes. It should also provide corrective actions to be used if the test results differ from the supplier's results. It is important that all the corrective actions are documented.

Supplier Evaluation

Companies should not rely solely on test results (in-house or suppliers') to determine the safety or suitability of an ingredient. Suppliers' food safety and quality systems must also be evaluated by the facility using the products. Suppliers may be audited to ensure they are meeting all agreed upon requirements or, they may be required to provide a third party certification report. If these are not feasible, a copy of the suppliers' food safety program may be requested along with documentation such as records to show they are following written procedures. A more practical way to evaluate a supplier is to require the completion of a supplier questionnaire or survey. These surveys involve a series of questions that are answered by both current and prospective suppliers. The survey may also require that supporting documents or evidence be submitted. The returned survey should be signed by someone with authority. Questions may be simple, requiring mainly yes/no answers such as:

  1. Do you have an operational HACCP plan for products you currently or wish to supply?
  2. If no, does your company plan to implement a HACCP plan? By what date?
  3. Do you have documented implemented GMP programs?
  4. Do you have a pest control program in place?
  5. Do you have an implemented allergen control procedure?
  6. Do you have a 3rd party audit of your food safety systems? If yes, name audit firm and date of last audit.
  7. Are you capable and willing to provide a Certificate of Analysis for each lot?
  8. Do you perform internal audits? If yes, provide frequency and last date of audit.
  9. Do you have a formal supplier approval program?
  10. Do you have training records for all personnel?

Other questions may require additional information and descriptions of programs:

  1. How are raw materials inspected?
  2. What testing and/or inspections are carried out on the product? By whom? Frequency?
  3. What cleaning procedures are in place?
  4. How is cleaning monitored?
  5. Does a documented complaint procedure exist? Describe.
  6. Provide a list of all allergens in your facility? Describe the allergen control policy.

The questions asked on the survey are specific to your organization's needs. Questions may be asked to cover many different areas, such as manufacturing capabilities, testing and calibration, traceability and security. Developing effective ways to manage suppliers and incoming materials will go a long way to ensure the safety and quality of the finished product.

For more information, email the CVO/Food Safety Knowledge Centre or call 204-795-8418 in Winnipeg.