Taking the initiative: DFA plants make food safety top priority

Written by Karen Bohnert
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With food recalls continuing to making news headlines, now more than ever consumers want to be assured that the food they eat is safe. And, while the magnitude of food safety continues to be an ongoing concern for consumers, Dairy Farmers of America has not only made food safety a part of its mission, but also is working toward becoming an industry leader on the topic.

DFA, through its Global Dairy Products Group (GDPG), introduced the Safe Quality Foods (SQF) initiative three years ago in all of its plants throughout the country. The SQF program is managed by the Safe Quality Food Institute to offer independent certification that a supplier’s food is produced, processed, prepared and handled according to the highest possible standards, at all levels of the supply chain. SQF is one element of a wider effort called the Global Food Safety Initiative.

Jeff Acker, vice president of quality assurance and compliance for GDPG, reports that 22 of DFA’s 30 plants will be SQF-certified by the end of the first quarter of 2013. SQF certification is valid for one year, meaning all plants, once certified, will undergo the certification process on an annual basis.

To date, 19 of DFA’s plants are certified; 12 of which have established recertification and two of those 12 plants have received a third certificate.

The Global Food Safety Initiative began in Europe several years ago and DFA began participating in the initiative about three years ago.

“Food safety and quality is the foundation for manufacturing excellence,” says Mark Korsmeyer, executive vice president of DFA and president of GDPG. “Our employees have done an excellent job implementing the SQF program, and it sets the expectation with our customers that we’re committed to producing high-quality, safe products on a global scale.”

While food safety has always been a top priority for DFA, undergoing the SQF certification process provides documented proof that food safety protocols are in place. As consumers become more and more aware of food safety issues, DFA’s customers like Walmart, Kraft and others increase their standards for their suppliers. All of DFA’s plants undergo routine inspections, not only from regulatory agencies, but also customers.

Acker attributes the 24-hour news media, which broadcasts events of food recalls to why consumers are becoming more aware.

“The peanut butter recall back in 2009 was a catalyst for consumer awareness,” he says.

The most sweeping reform of U.S. food safety laws in more than 70 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act, was signed into law by President Barack Obama on January 4, 2011. It aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.

FDA is visiting plants, like DFA’s, more frequently and demonstrating tougher examination because of the ongoing consumer push for high standards in food safety.

“The SQF auditing was supposed to originally eliminate redundancy of other audits conducted,” says Acker. “However, that has yet to happen.”