In the final part of our special edition on plant audits and quality control, we look at how a UK food safety certification scheme, set up three years ago, differs from the other standards and how it is adapting to the needs of the small or micro food manufacturers.
“As of February 2011, 349 companies now have Safe and Local Supplier Approval (SALSA) approval, and there about 300 others who are working towards the standard,” said Ruth Mason, food training advisor at the National Farmers Union (NFU), one of the trade groups that helped set up the standard.
And the number of registered buyers now amounts to 1,251, according to SALSA.
Mason said that while Tesco has not yet given the certification scheme full recognition, a good percentage of leading UK retailers have including Waitrose, ASDA and Sainsbury's.
Other trade groups involved in the development of the SALSA scheme were the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the British Hospitality Association (BHA) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
Established as an alternative to the more complicated and onerous BRC and ISO standards for the small and medium enterprise sector, Mason said its audit fee of £465 removes barriers to entry such as cost.
In addition, she points out that SALSA is slightly more hand-holding in nature than other schemes in terms of supporting documentation and that companies can avail of mentoring to learn how to prepare for one of its audits.
Consultant and approved SALSA auditor Martin Brook, who has 30 years experience of the food industry, said the scheme has grown based on the fact that it is perceived to be answering the needs of the local producer.
"It is really delivering on its initial promise," he commented, adding that SALSA is a "common sense'' standard, with an ethos based on helping smaller companies to develop.
Funding through regional bodies for local processors to gain SALSA approval is also a significant differentiator with it and other schemes, remarked Mason.
She notes that Seafish, the government backed seafood agency, has recently begun organising free workshops, using approved SALSA mentors, to guide its processor members through the approval process.
But the SALSA scheme, she continued, can also be seen as a “stepping stone to processors achieving the BRC Global Standard”, in that the smaller producer who has met all SALSA requirements will thus have the systems put in place to ensure easier passage to compliance for ‘higher’ certification schemes.
An annual review mechanism takes into account feedback from companies and is conducted with SALSA auditors. This process "informs the standard’s development,” continued Mason.
Adapting to needs of the smaller scale manufacturer is paramount in terms of how the scheme matures, she stressed, and SALSA is aiming to launch SME specific HACCP training by the end of this year.
“There are plenty of HACCP training courses available but very few that are orientated towards the SME sector, so, more often than not, an employee from a small company will come away none the wiser as to how to make the system applicable to their scale of factory.
With this in mind, and through consultation with companies, we have been developing a course structure on HACCP that takes into account smaller sized operations,” explained Mason.
And she added that other options such as SALSA certified pest control service for the SME sector could be in the pipeline in the next year or two.