If you have the responsibility of ingredient procurement director, or a similar role at your organization, it can feel overwhelming to sift through numerous potential suppliers to source safe, high-quality ingredients.
The benefits of working with a trusted ingredient distributor is that they do a lot of this work for you — by vetting every food manufacturer that they partner with, and reviewing their audits to ensure they meet safety and quality standards. Instead of managing direct relationships with multiple manufacturers and assessing all of their safety protocols individually, you can maintain one relationship with a trusted distributor who carefully oversees each of their manufacturers.
There’s no shortage of ingredient distributors around, so the question becomes how to differentiate between those who truly care about their products and those who put profit over people.
The difference between a poor or average distributor and an excellent, trusted distributor usually comes down to safety and quality. Below, we’ve outlined some essential questions to ask that will help you weed out distributors who are cutting corners, and hone in on those whose first priority is quality.
1. Have You Had Any Food Safety or Regulation Breaches?
Your distributor should be upfront about their food safety protocols, and this includes breaches and recalls, but it’s still up to you to ask the hard questions. A quality distributor will be happy to share their clean record. Even if they (or any of their suppliers) have experienced a breach or recall at some point, a trustworthy distributor will be honest and forthright about what happened and how they worked to rectify the situation.
Refusal to answer, on the other hand, should make you stop and consider whether this is a company you want to align yourself with. Take the time to visit government databases to see whether their company name comes up for recalls, warning letters, or prosecution lists.
2. What Food Safety Controls Do You Employ for Your Manufacturers?
It’s important to ask a potential ingredient distributor to walk you through their certifications and safety protocols. It’s equally important to educate yourself on these certifications and protocols before arriving, so you know what to look for and can spot any weak or missing links.
First, ask if the distributor complies with the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) under the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The FSMA requires that importers craft a food safety verification plan to identify risks and hazards in their foreign suppliers, and employ measures to prevent those risks and hazards from appearing in their imported food. The company that receives imports from foreign suppliers (generally, your food distributor) is responsible for ensuring those suppliers are verified under the FSVP. Your distributor should be able to show you their documented process for verifying their suppliers through methods such as audits, record reviews, and third-party inspections.
Aside from the FSMA, you should ask what other standards and certifications the distributor requires their manufacturers to adhere to. Here are just a few to look for that indicate a reliable distributor:
- International Organization for Standardization (ISO): shows that suppliers uphold stringent food safety management practices.
- BRC Global Standards: demonstrates that suppliers maintain quality and safety throughout the manufacturing, processing, and labeling and packing of their goods.
- Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP): shows that suppliers follow the internationally recognized system for reducing food safety hazards, which also provides guidelines to inform safe and high-quality ingredient production.
Other controls to look out for include Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), as well as programs for pest control, food defense, traceability and recall, and microbiological testing.
A distributor that upholds and ensures these certifications across all of their suppliers shows a high commitment to quality and safety — while a distributor that doesn’t employ any of these should be considered a red flag.
3. How Involved Are You in the Production Process?
The more involved your distributor is in the production process, the better. Fewer links in the chain means fewer opportunities for mistakes; better knowledge about how the ingredients were produced and what safety protocols were employed; and ultimately, a lower risk of introducing hazards to the finished product.
Ask how involved the distributor is at each stage of food production. For example, at Seawind Foods, we work directly with our farmers and follow our foods all the way to our clients. From processing and shipping to storing and delivery, we’re able to ensure eagle-eyed monitoring thanks to a highly trained, global quality team.
It Pays to Have a Quality Distributor You Can Trust
Having reliable access to a supply of top-quality ingredients is key to creating your ideal food offering. With the right distributor, you can rely on getting the safe, high-quality ingredients you need to make delicious products that your customers love and trust.
Seawind Foods is committed to offering the highest quality ingredients, and that commitment shows in every aspect of our business. We are involved every step of the way, from seed to product stand. Our global quality team and production staff work to not only meet, but exceed, the industry’s strictest standards and regulatory food safety requirements. We want you to feel good about the ingredients you use, and that’s why we’re committed to showing our customers our dedication to quality. To learn more about our commitment to quality and safety, contact Seawind Foods today.