We had a long day today; we received our annual SALSA (Safe and Local Supplier Approval) accreditation inspection. It was carried out by, arguably, the most knowledgeable raw milk cheese microbiologist in the Country. In addition, he had requested to bring along a Senior Cheese Technologist from Sainsbury's who was interested in observing how the SALSA scheme worked.
The SALSA Scheme is wonderful! It's a professional, well managed and recognised thorough scheme. Small batch, small company, particularly artisan food producers can rarely meet 'large company' sophistication, so the SALSA Scheme takes this into account, acknowledging that small batch production does not necessarily mean poorer quality. Approval demonstrates that a detailed inspection of the food producer has taken place by a qualified assessor, that all legal requirements have been adhered to, and most importantly, that the food produced is deemed safe for consumption.
The audit lasted 9 hours, and in today's heat it was all rather stressful. The natural perspiration from the heat, we were convinced, made us look extra nervous, which .....therefore ....made us extra nervous!
We readily agreed to the Sainsbury's accompaniment but then some colleagues wondered whether this would be even more stressful? Would our auditor be extra picky? Would the Sainsbury's Technologist dig deep into our IT efficiencies? ("they may be more used to dealing with large production set ups, large scale computer controlled production lines...... possibly with super duper clever magic eyes and robots monitoring the processes 24 hours a day?" we pondered.
We needn't have worried, all went well and the lovely Technologist from Sainsbury's was a joy have here! The nice thing about SALSA, we feel, is that the auditor is as much a mentor as an inspector. We are allowed to challenge questions for relevance to our business and encouraged to demonstrate compliance to the Standard, in our own experienced way. In addition we can seek advice and recommendations for further improvements.
However much we prepared for the audit, we were definitely tested (to the limit!) to demonstrate that we produce a good quality, safe cheese.
Here are a few excerpts from the report:
'An established family business with a senior management team that has excellent knowledge of the cheesemaking industry'
'throughout the company, there was good technical knowledge and comprehension of cheesemaking principles'
'production staff were well trained'
'good standards of hygiene were evident in all food-handling areas'
If anyone would like to know more about our audit or have a copy of our audit report, please get in touch.
A long day, yet well worth it.