Northlake Plant Receives Record-Breaking Safety Audit Score

Scholle IPN’s Northlake Plant achieved a record-breaking 99 out of 100 on their recent SQF (Safe Quality Food) audit. This was Northlake’s highest score to date, and the largest point improvement seen in over five years.

SQF is an independent, third party audit program recognized by The GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative), and a standard of excellence used by food suppliers across the globe. SQF Certification shows a business has proven a high degree of competency, and that it meets necessary prerequisites and legal requirements that ensure safety and quality.  Third party certification is very important to Scholle IPN’s clients. “Our entire business is based on providing safe, quality food packaging for customers to place their products in,” says Josh Jabben, Regulatory and Compliance Manager at Scholle IPN Northlake. “They demand certification in order to do business with us.”

Northlake has scored high in the past, landing a 97 on the last audit in 2014. But Scholle IPN’s value of continuous improvement pushes the team to aim higher.  “Because we’re committed to continuous improvement, we hoped to increase our score by getting every employee involved in the process. We feel that our concerted efforts at increasing ownership (of food safety) at all levels made a real difference in the dramatic improvement of our score,” Jabben explains.

Efforts to increase ownership began by utilizing the Mini Business Program teams as a conduit to deploying toward common goals. Comprised of employees at all levels from varied departments, these teams work in day-long strategy sessions aimed at finding a problem’s root cause and solving it together. “We took these teams through our safety policy deployment process, emphasizing food safety, and helping them really understand SQF and its criteria,” Jabben says. “We wanted employees to understand how the little things they do on a daily basis all come together to affect the quality of our product, as well as our performance on an audit. And to see that they’re not just following procedures or doing tests because they are on a checklist, but to know why it’s important to document things in a certain manner. We hoped once they really understand the SQF criteria, and how their specific day-to-tay responsibilities affect results, it could help them identify issues which management may not see, and they’d be equipped to identify solutions to issues that can turn up on an audit.”

Jabben says teams put much thought and effort into setting up specific requirements and processes so that everyone had some task or responsibility over food safety. They even incorporated weekly shift-level SQF inspections.

“The auditor made several comments on improvements he recognized since he was here in 2014,” Jabben recalls. “He was very impressed with our integration of SQF audits into our Safety Policy Deployment process—specifically the focus on continuous improvement through weekly communication, and ownership of the audits and findings at the shift/employee level. Following interactions with some of the employees, he mentioned it was apparent that each employee he spoke to knew what they were doing and why, but also that they were engaged with what they were doing.”

The auditor also praised the cleanliness of the Northlake facility, noting that everything was very clean, and well maintained. “Considering the size, age and complexity of our facility and equipment his comments illustrate the commitment to food safety at our facility,” observes Jabben.

Finally, he was impressed with the maintenance department, noting he could see their impact throughout the facility, as well as the results of their metrics.

“Our preventive maintenance program is very detailed, well documented, and thorough. One metric they track is their PM (Preventive Maintenance) schedule attainment. So even if they are busy, we know what is not getting done and how well they’re maintaining their schedule. The auditor was truly impressed with level of detail observed and recorded, and that we know what—if anything—we’re behind on, and that we have a plan to get back on track.”

“In addition to the emphasis on getting every employee involved in continuous improvement, our company has annual training programs that also impact our ability to continually improve. Programs such as the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), Standard Operating Procedures, and “Pay for Skills” process help ensure that people are only doing jobs they are qualified to do. We have a number of systems that work in harmony, provide a good safety net, and ensure people really know what they’re doing and understand why they’re doing it. Focusing on continuous improvement (of our personal and food safety process) is built into all we do.”

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