An accountant’s role in food safety
Everyone in a food enterprise is part of the food safety team
Today’s food safety mantra, whether it be for a generic HACCP plan or any of the growing number of GFSI programs, is that everyone in a food enterprise is part of the food safety team and that everyone has a role to play to ensure that the food produced is safe and wholesome. I’ve not known or heard of anyone pushing back against this all-inclusive approach, but accountants are frequently overlooked as key players. There are a number of ways accountants can contribute to the company’s food safety program. First let’s look at how a firm’s money is typically managed.
Managing the money
The traditional business hierarchy looks like this. The finance department is responsible for strategic planning, budgeting, information systems, internal controls and, of course, preparing and reporting corporate financial statements. The accounting department is responsible for executing the parts of the strategic plan it can influence, including budget implementation, policies and procedures, cost and sales analysis, internal controls, wages and benefits, as well as accounts receivable and payable.
Other departments within the firm will have a budget, which may include supplies, equipment and wages. Each department is held accountable to work within its budget. The vast majority of companies rarely dissect how individual departments spend the money in its budget as long as it lives within its budget and nobody complains. However, this is where the opportunities exist for accountants to add value to the firm’s food safety programs because they know what is going on throughout the firm.
At the heart of all the opportunities available to accountants to participate in and to enhance food safety is the trove of financial and other data collected by all departments in the course of day-to-day business. This data is much more readily available today than a decade ago, when firms relied on paper forms, but even if a business is still using paper forms, one can, with a lot more effort, mine the information. Here are some examples of what to monitor.
Let’s start with waste because most firms have some measure of it. Waste is not just what goes into the trash can at the end of the day. It also includes rework, seconds, returned product and, frankly, anything that adds cost. The connection between waste and food safety may not always be clear but, in the end, waste adds cost and reduces funds that could be used to sustain and/or improve food safety either directly or indirectly.
Another way accountants can make a huge and ongoing contribution to food safety programs is to gather and analyze employee activity data. One example is monitoring how much time employees spend on specific activities and how this changes over time. Doing so will reveal potentially worrisome trends such as increased delays in starting up. Further analysis of the cause(s) might indicate pre-operational inspections are taking longer due to inadequate cleaning, wrong ingredients on the line or a variety of other reasons. In my experience, delays in starting up are often due to issues related to food safety.
An activity-time trend analysis also has the potential to reveal trends in time spent carrying out tasks more directly connected to food safety. For example, sanitation overtime, placing products on and off hold due to food safety concerns, remedial sampling and resampling, overtime due to more frequent food safety meetings, and last but not least, product recalls/withdrawals. Trend analysis is not only a great tool to improve one’s awareness of a potential problem, but also to confirm that you have circumstances that need to be addressed.
Food processing firms are data-rich, yet often fail to marshal all the resources in the company to mine this data for valuable insights into managing waste and improving food safety. Company accountants are an untapped resource. They speak the language of money, which seems to be heard more clearly by management than is the technical dialect spoken by QA/QC. Harness this overlooked talent within your company and make this the next step on the journey of continuous improvement in food safety.
Dr. R.J. (Ron) Wasik PhD, MBA, CFS, is president of RJW Consulting Canada Ltd. Contact him at email@example.com