The supply chain plays a major part in food safety — the product you receive from your supplier must be of the highest possible quality to ensure customer satisfaction and safety and to help you maintain a positive brand image. With suppliers playing such an exponential role, you must have visibility into supplier processes to ensure that the product you receive is of the highest quality and level of safety possible.

However, including suppliers into your business processes works both ways. While it is beneficial for you to have visibility into your supplier’s processes, they must also have visibility into yours.

Companies are increasingly beginning to recognize the impact of the supply chain on quality, safety and compliance, and are breaking down the silos of information that have separated supplier quality from their own four walls. Here’s how.

Alleviate security concerns

While allowing visibility into your food safety management processes is beneficial for the supplier, there is still some concern about security of data when allowing suppliers into your internal systems. In fact, because of this concern, many organizations will simply opt not to extend this visibility to suppliers. However, keeping suppliers completely separated when it comes to your food safety processes could do more damage in the long run.

 Many automated food safety systems provide a cloud-based supplier portal between your business and your suppliers so you can extend limited access of your system to your suppliers. This portal gives your suppliers access to a custom dashboard where they can see all of their events, post-market data, corrective actions, even down to design changes. They can work on these processes, update them as needed and transfer all data securely to you. By accessing this information through a cloud-based portal, your suppliers will see only what you want them to see and your security concerns will be mitigated — and you will be promoting and nurturing an efficient supplier relationship.

Connecting the supply chain to your food safety system

The supply chain provides benefits such as flexibility, specialized knowledge and products, ability to leverage new technologies, better brand focus, reduced costs, faster time to market and more. With these benefits, there are also risks to including suppliers in elements of your production and processes — for example, intellectual property risks, cultural differences and business differences.

One of the biggest challenges becomes how to mitigate supplier risk and improve food safety within the supply chain. When looking at the supply chain like other business components, we see a set of data, information and processes that are siloed from your business. You have to tear down that silo in order to bring greater visibility into supplier quality, safety and compliance.

This is where the integrated Food Safety Management System (FSMS) comes in.

By integrating key processes into the FSMS, you can incorporate supplier data and manage overall processes and materials from your suppliers while providing details on how to handle these processes and materials. You will also benefit from having made your suppliers a part of your internal process, while maintaining control over what they have access to within your system.

Here are just a few ways connecting your supply chain with your FSMS will improve supplier quality, increase safety and enhance visibility.

Managing supplier performance: Most suppliers are held to certain standards; however, if they don’t have visibility into your system, they may not be clear on how you’re rating them. By using a quantitative supplier rating system, tied to risk-based methods, you will have a defined measure for supplier performance. And if suppliers can see how they rate, they will know where they can improve to become a favored supplier.

Managing nonconformances: Every now and then, components and material will be out of specification. Often, in siloed cases, the business would handle the issue, communicate it to the supplier and then move on. If you can automatically generate nonconformances and notify the supplier of anything that is out of specification, you will be left with tighter collaboration. There may be unforeseen deviations or solutions that can be implemented or a supplier can change and adapt more quickly if they are notified in real-time. Risk management can also be built into this dynamic. A risk ranking for each product event can help to filter and prioritize the severity of each event, and push all critical items to the top so they are not lost amongst less critical events. Suppliers can see all this in a supplier portal.

Corrective actions: The FSMS’s corrective action process helps you to manage and fix any systemic issues within your business. A collaborative corrective action process will enable you to not only continuously improve on your product but to include your suppliers in the process so they can improve the components that make up that product.

Designating a workflow step that ensures the supplier uses your system to address systemic issues is a beneficial step in visibility. In doing so, you are not only tracking what you’re doing to improve, you’re tracking what the supplier is doing to improve. Add in the concept of risk management, and you’ve now created a quantitative measure that shows the criticality of that event. Suppliers can address those events that pose the greatest risk to the business and their relationship with the business. No longer does a SCAR go into a “black hole” once submitted to the supplier; they are a part of the process.

Post-market involvement: After all finished products are released, the cycle ends with post-market feedback. You will get complaints, food safety issues, general adverse events, and so on. Your ability to handle them depends on how much information you know about your product, and how much information is provided to you by the supplier. Having a supplier involved from the design phase to the post-market phase is important in this step, since the more information shared during the product lifecycle, the more data you can provide for mitigating post-market risks. Similarly, involving your suppliers in the remediation of any adverse events is helpful. By having a notification by product and supplier material in a system, you can ensure that a supplier is notified when a complaint comes in that involves their components or materials. They may be able to offer insights into resolution, or can provide alternatives to help. Finally, having them know what flaws or errors are occurring can impact their design in future iterations, eliminating risk when the change control cycle begins again.