Friday, January 22, 2010

An Inexpensive Program to Conduct Cashew Audits

January 21, 2010

When I joined this industry 20 years ago, cashews seemed be the nut category to monopolize the complaint department. Issues regarding infestation, foreign material, glass, hair, lead solder and various and other sundry items would be the topic of conversation at industry conventions. Unfortunately the progression of time, communication and technology has had little effect, and the problems we had 20 years ago still plague the industry today (although we did solve the lead solder dilemma with the advent of flexible packaging...) These issues still result in unnecessary cost to the product, in addition to wasted time and manpower.

Investigating Conditions at the Source

Several months ago we proposed an initiative to investigate conditions at the source that result in problems with cashews. During these difficult economic times, budgetary considerations must be taken into account. We have sharpened our pencil, and also have obtained a contribution that will offset costs associated with the project, so that we can offer this invaluable service for a fraction of the original price. Our hope is that the lower price will enable more participants to join the program and thus set the stage for the beginning of a new way to approach the sourcing of cashews and other agricultural commodities, while meeting new demands placed upon us as and industry by legislators, retailers and consumers.

The Need for Audits

The CCC has developed comprehensive, cost effective third-party supplier auditing programs for the nut and agricultural industry. Audits are a huge and necessary step to ensure quality and food safety.
Audits help form and cement the necessary partnership between the buyer and supplier. A good partnership helps both sides achieve their aims.
An audit is an effective way for a supplier to understand the exact needs/requirements of the buyer.
Buyers can assess the capabilities of suppliers. It's no good ordering 10 containers if the chosen supplier can only really produce 5.

Properly audited facilities can have a direct effect on a company's finances by proactively addressing issues that can have a significant effect on the bottom line, such as:
Glass: Glass found in food will cause a recall, and is particularly problematic because it is hard to detect and remove even if the food item is subject to further cleaning and processing.
Metal: Apart from being a health hazard in food (try eating razor blades) metal can damage valuable machines leading to loss of production.
Pests: Consumers absolutely hate finding live insects in their food, and dead ones receive the same response. But pests, especially rodents, birds and mammals carry a whole range of nasty diseases, such as salmonella, listeria nd E.Coli. Food contaminated with these organisms, or with live insects, will be recalled.
Personnel: It's a fact of life that humans carry many things that can contaminate food. It can be hair from someones head, or it can be more serious. Humans can carry and distribute diseases like salmonella, listeria and E.Coli.
Traceability: We need to understand where our food comes from. If we know where it has been then there is a good chance we can find out at what stage a particular problem arose and then take action to prevent the same thing happening again.

In addition, third party audits are soon going to be law. The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, HR2479, has already passed. Page 51, section xii reads:

"The qualified certifying entity shall not be owned, operated, or controlled by a trade association whose member companies operate facilities that it certifies."

That's pretty clear. No trade association can do this. It must be third party. Additionally, this project, and existing conditions require more resources than traditional certification agencies can provide.

We are all aware that there are conditions in facilities that compromise the integrity of the food products they produce. There is a need to investigate conditions in these facilities so that manufacturers can come to grips with why problems are occurring, how they can be avoided, and who is reliable. We have assembled a program and with your support, are ready to go forward. I want to make it clear that this program was developed not with the intention of exposing poor manufacturing conditions as a way to discredit suppliers, but as means to identify what conditions result in compromised product and in turn develop programs to assist these companies to make necessary improvements and raise the bar of the industry.

The Proposal

Using seasoned auditors, we will conduct audits of a representative sample of 10 cashew processing facilities in Vietnam. Supporters of this effort will receive, in a timely fashion:

- Access to an expanding data base of audited vendors
- A white paper summarizing the results and assessing the state of the industry, based on analyses from an inspector who has 30 years experience in food safety inspections with a concentration in nuts and dehydrated fruit.
- Full audit report from each facility

Prior to this round of audits (scheduled in March 2010),supporters will be able to:

- Submit questions for our inspector that directly relate to the issues they want addressed
- Submit specific shippers to be considered for inspection.

By utilizing the pooled support of the industry, the CCC inspection program can eventually provide a world-wide audit program to its supporters at a fraction of what it would cost a single company. As a result supporters can advertise themselves as companies that are taking steps to proactively improve the supply of raw cashews, and eventually other imported nut and agricultural commodities.

How to Participate

Our funding goal for this project is $500.00 per participant. The average cost of an audit, not including transportation, accomodations, meals, etc. is about $1500 per audit, making this a very reasonable price for ten audits.

If you have any questions, or if your firm is interested in participating in this collective project, please contact us at , or 804-745-2848, for more information. We will also have a booth at the upcoming Peanut and Tree Nut Convention.

We can do this, and we can do it cheaply if all the stakeholders participate!

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