The food industry as a ‘live system’

Lesley Hemson, food sector manager at Kiwa PAI. Kiwa PAI is the UKAS-accredited specialist in food, feed and farm certification, notes the key issues that she sees in food certification.

Describe yourself in three words:

Organised, calm and practical.

How did you get to where you are today?

After completing my education, I began working in flour milling and from there into more classic food manufacturing industries like bakery, cereals, confectionery and brewing. After having my children, I decided to take a career break before they started school and was approached by a consultancy group and asked if I would be interested in carrying out auditing of suppliers. This career took off and I started up as a self employed food and packaging assessor for 16 years before joining Kiwa PAI in April 2012 as the food sector manager, a role which involves managing a team of assessors across a wide range of food industry related accredited and non accredited schemes.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I do not have a typical day as they either involve auditing various types of factories or catching up on emails, visiting clients or carrying out training.

What’s your biggest professional achievement?

Many years ago, my company was one of the first food companies in the UK to gain BS5750 (precursor to ISO9001) and I can remember how proud I was to have got the company through it as those were the days when there were very few computers and everything was in hard copy. We had about 15 quality manuals positioned around the factory!

How has your side of the industry changed over the past few years and why?

The food industry is much more of a ‘live’ system now than it has ever been. In the past, specifications were available to the chosen few and likely to have been stored in dusty folders within QA offices, now a lot of that information is available to all and needs to be current. Today more information about processes and products is required as the general public are so much more interested and aware of how their food is produced. The advent of social media has also highlighted the need to have full and detailed, up to date information available. The majority of companies now have Facebook or Twitter profiles which means that both negative and positive information can be easily circulated and consumers expect answers to their queries straight away. Traceability documentation therefore needs to be available quickly.

What developments do you think will become popular in food certification and why?

Origin authentication and food defence – with the problems of last year, it is apparent that tighter controls need to be introduced to identify products that can be susceptible to abuse. More and more audits are focusing on traceability and mass balance to show that products purchased have been sourced from reputable suppliers and the use within manufacturing can be traced. All certification schemes involve traceability challenges as part of the assessment, which can only strengthen a company’s reputation. This can only be a good thing as it will hopefully ensure that unscrupulous suppliers are removed from the supply chain.

Tell me something about your role that most people wouldn’t know.

That although my title is food sector, I am also responsible for packaging, storage and distribution auditing.

What is your pet hate?

The use of icons ie smiley face in emails.

Give us a positive prediction for the industry over the next 12 months?

The re-issue and update of BRC Version 7 which will hopefully address the more current issues facing the industry like food fraud and security. The new issue is unlikely to eradicate this but it will require companies to be more aware and to risk assess and consider what steps can be taken to reduce the possibility.
Hopefully this will force a shortening of the food chain and for it to be managed better. The introduction of the new BRC Agents and Brokers Standard will put in another control to the supply chain, which is good news for all.

What do you consider to be the most important attributes for your role in the industry?

Knowledge – I manage a team of assessors across a range of schemes and it is important for me to have a level of knowledge across all of the schemes and be aware of the current industry issues so I can assist with queries.

Patience – but probably more level headed so I can assess and sort out what needs urgent attention and what can wait for another day.

Approachability – at Kiwa PAI we pride ourselves on our customer service and try to be available for our clients when they need to talk to us.

Who do you most admire?

My scheme co-ordinator as she is always on top of things and calm under pressure.

Which words do you most overuse?

‘Basically’ and ‘OK’.

What single thing would most improve the quality of your life?

Free wi-fi everywhere.

Tell us something about yourself that few people know

I was a magistrate for nine years.

How do you relax?

Walking the dog!

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