Risk assessing new suppliers in the COVID-19 era

RSSL's Barbara Hirst and Marta Ahijado discuss how risk assessment strategies are being reshaped by the pandemic and why analytical testing is more important than ever.


COVID-19 has disrupted the supply chain on an unprecedented scale. As a consequence, many food manufacturers have been compelled to urgently set up new supplier arrangements, either due to shortages of commodities or the need to upscale volumes of core lines. Best practice dictates that any change to the source or profile of commodities coming into the manufacturing environment must be fully risk assessed, but the way in which this essential process is carried out has also been affected by the pandemic.

Under normal circumstances, a potential new supplier would not only be put through a full quality assurance assessment, they would also almost certainly be subject to an on-site audit. Given current restrictions, however, this practical contact is somewhat difficult.

Manufacturers are instead carrying out these checks remotely and increasingly relying on paperwork alone to provide the vital information needed for risk analysis – not an ideal scenario. The lack of direct contact makes it harder to build trust in a supplier, which could mean manufacturers are less likely to have complete confidence in the new relationship. There are also issues with opting to go through an agent or broker. While this approach may appear to solve the immediate supply issue, introducing a third-party into the mix is likely to complicate traceability.

In many ways, the pandemic is introducing greater uncertainty for manufacturers and retailers, who are already dealing with dramatic shifts in consumer purchasing and consumption patterns. Labour shortages are limiting harvesting and processing capacity for many suppliers, while border restrictions continue to hamper transportation to manufacturing sites.

Yet, it is important to remember that even in this unpredictable context, the underlying principles regarding food safety and food quality remain the same. The challenge for the industry is how to accurately assess and mitigate the risk factors associated with selecting new suppliers, while also navigating the challenges imposed by COVID-19.

Originally published by New Food Magazine. Click here to read the full article.


Barbara Hirst

Barbara Hirst is the Senior Consultant for Food Safety and Quality at RSSL. She has worked with the company since 1998 and in her role, guides clients on all aspects of allergen management – from risk assessment through to validation of controls. Using her scientific and technical knowledge, Barbara also advises regulators and industry on best practice approaches for sampling, testing, and validation of control measures.

Marta Ahijado

Marta Ahijado joined RSSL in 2002 and is currently Head of Food R&D. During this time, she has provided technical solutions and direction across a diverse number of areas, including NPD, manufacturing processes, patent cases, crisis management, customer complaints and procurement. Marta graduated with a Master’s Degree in Analytical Chemistry and gained industry experience providing analytical services for agriculture, horticulture and environmental sectors.

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