Propelled in part by increased public focus on food safety, many foodservice operations such as Atlanta-based RARE Hospitality International are performing the critical but time-consuming process of auditing their suppliers. The audit process can require one to two day's time, making it costly as well.
However, a partnership between RARE Hospitality's broadline supplier, U.S. Foodservice, and the Steritech Group Inc., a quality systems auditing firm headquartered in Charlotte, NC, has allowed RARE to instead focus its resources on the areas that help drive its business, while also enhancing food safety.
Food safety is critical to all organizations along the food chain. A supplier-auditor partnership is a natural opportunity to ensure the appropriate food safety quality systems are present. It not only reduces duplication of efforts but offers considerable time and cost benefits to everyone.
"We use U.S. Foodservice as our broadline supplier, and they were looking for a new third-party food safety auditing firm," explains Frank Ferko, director of quality assurance at RARE Hospitality, which owns and franchises more than 300 restaurants throughout the eastern half of the United States.
They include the well-known LongHorn Steakhouse, Bugaboo Creek Steak House, The Capital Grille and Hemenway's Seafood Grill and Oyster Bar. "With our limited QA staff and budget, it was good to know Steritech could step in and provide a comprehensive range of services."
Evaluating auditing firms throughout the United States was one of the first tasks on the job for Gary Smith, who joined U.S. Foodservice (USFS) as director of distribution food safety and quality assurance in February 2005. He needed a vendor that would help USFS consistently meet the highest standards—based on the FDA's GMPs, customer expectations and industry best practices.
"The data from our previous food safety auditor was not as actionable," Smith says. "We couldn't do much with it. There wasn't much difference between ‘good divisions' and ones that needed improvement. For example, if there were concerns with one of our warehouses, we might receive a score of 900 (out of 1,000), whereas another facility with which there weren't any concerns might only receive a score of 940. Just looking at the numbers, you couldn't tell much difference. So we conducted a Request for Proposal for the selection of our third-party audit firm.
"We looked at quality systems of the conducting of the audits, from auditor selection and training, to field calibrations and continuous monitoring. As a result of this evaluation, Steritech was selected. The firm now audits all of U.S. Foodservice's divisions, including the eight divisions that service RARE's foodservice operations, and Steritech gives us data that we can use to help drive improvement within our divisions."
Inconsistencies in audit data, such as what U.S. Foodservice previously experienced, can be prevented through calibration. Also called standardization, it means that the auditor inspecting a facility is using the same criteria, approach and consistency as an auditor evaluating another facility across the country. It ensures the input clients receive is accurate, uniform and technically sound, and Steritech's calibrated auditors are some of the most highly trained in the industry.
Establish A Baseline
Dr. Robert Strong, Steritech's vice president, quality management systems, headed the auditing team and reviewed the previous auditor's data. The team then identified key issues and criteria for USFS. This allowed Steritech to establish a baseline from which to chart trends and determine areas for corrective action, such as temperature control. Steritech's semi-annual food safety audits at USFS also cover receiving and storage; employee and management issues; maintenance; general sanitation; will-call, which includes customer pick-up areas; picking of orders; and loading of outbound trailers.