In 2018, Meds & Food for Kids embarked on a journey to achieve certification of the International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) 22000 standards. After many months of hard work and an intense two-day audit of our management systems, MFK was granted certification in ISO 22000:2005 on March 20, 2019. MFK was one of the first food processing facilities in Haiti to achieve this certification.
ISO is a worldwide federation of national standards. Through its members, it brings together experts to share knowledge and develop voluntary, consensus-based, market-relevant international standards which support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges. Certification can be a useful tool to add credibility by demonstrating that a product or service meets the expectations of your customers. For some industries, certification is a legal or contractual requirement. MFK’s largest customer, UNICEF, has strongly encouraged its suppliers to become certified.
Gaining certification was just the beginning of our journey; the ISO 22000:2005 certificate is valid for three years, but the independent auditors must conduct an update audit each year for the certification to remain in place. In 2020, MFK’s update audit was scheduled for March 18-19 at our facility in Haiti. The auditors, based at a consulting firm in Mexico City, Mexico, decided to not travel to Haiti given continuing U.S. State Department Level 4 travel advisory for Haiti. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic made international travel inadvisable. We agreed to the remote audit, as it was unclear when international travel to Haiti would be permitted and advisable. As I have shared with you in the past, we were successful in passing this re-certification audit.
Unfortunately, 2021 brings with it continuing challenges with traveling to Haiti, given many COVID-19 related restrictions and additional security issues on the ground in Haiti. The auditors once again decided that it would be prudent to conduct the audit remotely.
MFK held the audit on a Zoom platform, which worked well, for the most part, as the internet in Haiti is sometimes unreliable. The daily Zoom calls included Nolny Alphonse, MFK Quality Assurance Manager; Remenson Tenor, MFK Plant Manager, both from Haiti; the two auditors, from their homes in Mexico City; and me, Lauren Plummer, MFK’s Chief Administrative Officer, in Saint Louis, Missouri.
The audit plan for the third and final year of re-certification process was somewhat different from 2020 plan. First, the International Organization for Standardization had updated its ISO 22000 standards to better align with other ISO standards. In order to keep our certification in 2021, we needed to pass the audit using the revised standards (ISO 22000:2018 instead of the former ISO 22000:2005). This represented several differences in the way in which we organized our food safety management system; it also required new sections to the system dedicated to an organizational risk-based approach to management. In summary, this new approach involved identifying context and environmental issues external to the organization, internal to the organization, and identifying the requirements and expectations of all interested parties. Once this context was set and risks and opportunities were identified, it then requires actions to be integrated in the operational processes. Finally, it requires evaluating effectiveness of the implemented actions.
We started the first day by discussing the observations from the last re-certification audit in 2020, and progress and refinements we had made to our food safety management system over the last year. We then discussed our progress in moving from the 2005 standards to the 2018 standards. We gave examples of our emergency preparedness, a must-have factor in certification, including our current protocols to address employee safety and additional hygiene in this time of COVID-19, as well as reviewing the steps MFK has taken to sustain operations and meet customers’ needs through Haiti’s periodic civil unrest.
The auditors toured our facility via cell phone video on WhatsApp, and also interviewed two of our operators in production about their understanding of the food safety management system at MFK. We worked through the second day of the audit with Nolny screen-sharing many components of our management systems and policies, providing evidence that we strictly adhere to these systems, based on the ISO standards. MFK is pleased to report we passed the update audit again and are able to share this wonderful news with all of you. Next year we will have a prolonged audit, with the aspiration of attaining a new ISO 22000 certificate.