How to Keep Your Head Above Water When Managing Supplier Data

Managing a food safety and quality supplier approval program (SAP) is a time-consuming activity as well as a necessary task. Companies need to have confidence their suppliers have effective programs in place to minimize the risk of introducing their product into their process or serving/selling the product to their consumers. To do this, each company sets a standard for what requirements its suppliers must meet, which generally results in a lengthy questionnaire and the submission of a big list of documents. Can you imagine how overwhelming this is for both sides? To ease the burden, here are a few tips from our experience working with our customers. 

If your company is asking for all this information from your suppliers, how is it managing all this data? Is there someone trained looking through the questionnaire and each of the documents requested? And what do you do with all this information? If you don’t know the answer for most of these questions, you might need to review and improve your SAP. 

Collect Information With Purpose

Collecting information and documentation from your suppliers because it is a requirement to comply with a third-party audit standard, the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) or the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is not enough. You need to know if you are looking for the right information and using it to manage your risk, because the main goal of this program is to assure that your suppliers are providing safe and suitable products to you.

A good way to start your SAP is to request the information that will assure you that your company is doing business with a supplier that can be trusted. To have this assurance, the requirements might change from company to company, according to the size of the company, type of supply chain (raw ingredients vs. processed ingredients, for example), complexity of the process, specifications of the final product and potential hazards that can contaminate the product. 

The list of food safety documents often requested include:

  • Food safety and quality questionnaire
  • Audit report and corrective actions
  • Appropriate government registration, such as CFIA for Canadian companies and FDA and/or USDA for American companies
  • Product specification sheets
  • Certificate of analysis (COA)
  • HACCP plan and flow diagram
  • Appropriate state and/or municipal license
  • Claims certification (such as organic, kosher, halal, gluten-free and others)

Risk Rank Suppliers & Reduce Requirements Over Time for Lower Risk Suppliers

All the information gathered should be used to identify the risk of each material purchased as well as the risk it presents based on how it is used in your company’s process. After completing a food fraud and risk assessment of your process and supply chain, you should have a list of high-, medium- and low-risk suppliers, and you can then re-evaluate what information you need from each of them. It is recommended that your company re-evaluates your supplier and material risks every year or every time your product specifications change, and when you change or add new suppliers. Ideally, the requirements list will be adapted to include fewer documents over time (for low-risk suppliers), saving you and your suppliers valuable time. 

Invest in Technology to Support You

Finally, depending how many suppliers you have, you might consider a data management system to manage the information in a central location. This can help you automate communication with suppliers and track expiry dates on time-sensitive documentation. Keep in mind that any data management system is not a solution on its own and a qualified person is still needed to review the information to flag any risk with suppliers or materials/ingredients.

Author: Marjorie Rodrigues is a Compliance Reviewer with the Supplier Management Services team at NSF providing outsourced services that help companies manage the food safety and quality of their supply chain. You can reach her at

This post is one in a series on managing the quality and food safety of a supply chain as a manufacturer, restaurant brand or foodservice company.

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