Joe Christopherson, Liguria Foods Vice President of Operations, brings more than 29 years of experience of food safety management to the manufacturing facility. In his second year at Liguria, Joe comes directly from Hormel Foods where he had worked for 18 years. Prior to that, the University of Minnesota Economics and Finance graduate worked at ConAgra and Farmland in operations management.
We asked Joe to share the food safety fundamentals that have turned Liguria Foods into a leader in its field:
- Microbiological Sanitation – At Liguria, we take a proactive approach by managing food safety through sanitation chemical suppliers. We work with our suppliers to make sure we are always a step ahead in food sanitation.
- Operational Sanitation – This involves our process and procedures. We always want to take the right steps towards handling and keeping a clean environment. The cleanliness of a manufacturing plant is driven by HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) and SSOP (Sanitation Standard Operating Practices). We design the food safety program tighter than what is required by government regulatory agencies. A lot of what we do is designed towards risk mitigation.
- Allergen Controls in Labeling – This is today’s biggest issue amounting to the number one reason for recalls. We have to be on top of that and we have to have people on our team who are trained in those avenues. Fortunately, the most frequent allergens are not used in our products, but we still have to be very aware of the procedures to keep control of potential allergens.
How do you go about training your staff?
One thing we do is to actually personalize our training in order to make sure we have the cleanest facility possible. We ask our employees, “Would you want your family to eat this product?” That goes to training and retraining. We always keep food safety in front of our employees. It is not the new flavor of the month but is imbedded into the culture of the work environment.
What has Liguria done to live up to food safety standards or to set them?
We go beyond what is regulated by the government. We are SQF certified Level 2 for food safety and we are working towards attaining Level 3 Quality Program certification. We have it in place now but should pass the audit by the end of 2015.
What food safety certifications does Liguria maintain?
The USDA certification is no. 1. We are always in constant communication with USDA because it is a partnership rather than an adversarial relationship. Liguria Foods maintains a good working relationship with USDA. They update us on new rulings or concerns, and we talk about our upcoming initiatives. We go well beyond the spirit of the rules which is how we look at food safety – because the risk of a recall far outweighs the savings you may try to gain. Besides the USDA certification, Liguria also is SQF Level 3 Certified.
Where do the Liguria Foods management team and sales staff fit into your food safety program?
The wonderful thing about our company is that our management team is open to change with the times. As tech changes, as new procedures arise, they are open to implement what is needed to the highest levels. It makes keeping up with changes and implementing changes far easier. Liguria Foods maintains a culture that is founded in food safety. Everyone is trained and kept up to speed on food safety procedures. We educate our sales and marketing staff so that they get an annual review as part of our plan. They know how food safety affects products in a positive way so they can talk about it in an educated manner. They also have full access to the operations team which can answer questions quickly and knowledgeably.
When it comes to food safety, what does Liguria Foods do differently or better?
One of the keys to best practices in food safety is our partnerships with vendors. They play a key part because they understand the requirements needed to shape and support what we are trying to accomplish. Our success equates to their success.
What future improvements are in store for food safety?
You can always make facility upgrades geared to improved sanitation. We look to bring in the latest equipment with the highest level of sanitation criteria that is easy to disassemble and clean. We also make sure that our layout and product flow are simple, efficient and in line with food safety procedures. We seek to minimize cross-traffic and cross-contamination issues by monitoring the product flow.