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Working towards smarter food safety objectives

objectives SMART food safety objectives PDCA

My name is Jean-Guy Cormier, P.Eng., Lead Auditor. I am a professional engineer and a management system Lead Auditor for 30 years, the last 10 years with DNV GL Business Assurance, one of the top certification bodies in the world. As a professional auditor, I have done over a thousand audits in food safety, quality management, environmental and health and safety management system.


This article discusses the establishment of measurable targets to help management teams to focus their resources within the required areas and timeframes. Also, it is a platform for continuous improvement initiatives either at the plant-level or process-specific levels.


This article addresses three fundamental questions:

  • How and why does management establish measurable quality and food safety objectives?
  • How does management establish continuous improvement initiatives that are directly linked to measurable objectives? And
  • How and why management should establish proactive food safety objectives?
Comments are based on observations that I have collected and discussed with management teams over the years, regardless of the size and complexity of the company operations. For some, especially larger companies, with adequate knowledge, management understands the relevancy of established measurable objectives.


Unfortunately, too many companies still struggle because of several factors, such as lack of knowledge and understanding, not fully grasping the benefits and added value, lack of discipline and structured approach.



I think the first step is to understand the difference between objectives, goals and action items.
Here are some definitions according to ISO 9000:2015. A large percentage of managers and process owners do not fully understand the differences between objectives, goals and action items and tend to mix them up. For example, some companies think they have established objectives or goals, which are, in fact, action items that could support objectives and goals.


1. Improvement – activity to enhance performance


Continual improvement – recurring activity to enhance performance


Note 1: the process of setting objectives and finding opportunities for improvement is a continual process through use of audit findings and audit conclusions, analysis of data, management reviews or other means that would lead to corrective actions or preventive actions.


2. Process – set of interrelated or interacting activities that use inputs to deliver an intended result.


3. Objective – results to be achieved.
Note 1: objectives can relate to different disciplines, such as strategic, organization wide, project, product and process.


4. Sustained success – success over a period of time.


Note 1: sustained success emphasizes the need for a balance between economic – financial interests of an organization and those of the social and ecological environment.


Note 2: sustained success relates to the interested parties of an organization, such as customers, owners, people in an organization, providers, bankers, unions, partners or society.


5. Performance – measurable results.




Almost every audit in which I have participated, there is likely to be an observation and/or finding against requirements of quality and food safety objectives.


There are three primary reasons:

  • Objectives are not measurable, with established targets and/or indicators – established objectives by facility management are in fact action items that could support facility objectives. In addition, management may be spending a lot of time and resources because they are not focused on specific food safety and quality targets or goals. In contrast, there are many indicators or targets for sales, production efficiencies, maintenance downtime, product defects.
  • Objectives do not demonstrate continuous improvement initiatives: too often, objectives are lofty, with no clear description of one or several continuous improvement initiatives. Although, standard does not prescribe it, the plant food and quality and safety objective should provide a framework for a Plan - Do - Check - Act (PDCA) cycle of continuous improvement. Otherwise, management may be wasting their time.
  • Objectives for some are reactive and not proactive – for example, there is no doubt that having no customer complaints and/or product recalls are very important for the success of the facility. It is obvious there should be no product recalls and no customer complaints. In fact, it is implied in the food safety and quality policy.


    While it meets the intent of the standard, establishing zero recalls and/or zero complaints, it is difficult to demonstrate continuous improvement initiative, if the company targets are based on no product recalls for several years or low customer complaints.


    Management should consider proactive indicators to monitor the performance of the plant food safety management system, while continuing to monitor customer complaints and verify the effectiveness of the product recall program.


Creation of a baseline


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Often, site management have asked for examples of quality and/or food safety objectives, but, realistically, nothing would change with the examples, because most would not have a systematic approach for the creation and establishment of objectives in place.


Goals and objectives must be specific, measurable, realistic and attainable targets - (SMART).


SMART is a well-known method and provides a pathway for site management to create and establish objectives, which provide value-added initiatives for continuous improvement. In addition, objectives must be relevant to all levels and functions of the organization, not just for quality control, or production efficiencies or sales forecasts.


There are between 8 to 12 processes that exist for any company’s operation, regardless of the size and complexity of the business. If each process-owner establishes one objective that can generate added value and continuous improvement, it can be very beneficial to the company's operation.


For example, each process-owner is accountable for the establishment of the objectives associated with the process, thus, they will monitor performance, report status to site management and issue corrective actions, if objectives have not been met.
It is also important to increase targets every year, if objectives have been met, to continually improve process operation. One pitfall to be careful about: if the maximum limit during creation of a new objective is reached, for example 99.5%, it may not be viable to continue, because resources and expenditures would outweigh the benefits. In that case, process owners should consider new objectives.


Where do management start? The management team should start collecting and analyzing information; and create a baseline. Creation of a baseline includes historical information and a forecast or trend, where the process is going upward, downward or flat. Information can include:

  • needs and expectations from customers, regulatory agencies, corporate and other interested parties;
  • data from inputs and outputs of each process, such as incoming delivery time and delays;
  • quality of products, process and services and
  • results of risk assessment
Creation of a baseline may take several months, and will depend on data availability, for example, is data collected for every transaction, every hour, every day, every week, every month and/or every year? The other challenge is creation of a baseline that would provide added value; thus, it is best for the management team and/or a group of cross-functional employees to review relevancy of the created baseline.


In some cases, training may be required and/or help of a continuous improvement responsible to identify an appropriate baseline that would generate added value and establish objectives.


It is also important to understand needs and expectations of the customers, corporate requirements, regulatory requirements and/or process activities.


Establishment of SMART objectives


According to literature searches, SMART was the creation of a consultant and former Director of Corporate Planning for the “Washington Water Power Company”, Mr.George T. Doran, who published a paper called – “there is S.M.A.R.T.ways to write management goals and objectives”. Mr. Doran established five criteria:


Specific - process specific targets should provide value-added, economic benefits and continuous improvements.


Measurable - targets should be numerical or quantifiable, because it's easier to report and allows process owner to be more focused on a specific initiative. Process-owners should monitor their targets at defined intervals; best practice is on a monthly basis, and if targets are not being met, adjustment can be made for the following month(s).


If a target is not met at the end of a year, it is best practice to generate a corrective action. This will help to further understand the underlying cause of a specific target being not met. A deeper investigation would be required and development of a corrective action for a systematic solution.


Achievable/Assignable - Process owners should be realistic about achieving their objectives, so, the best practice is to take incremental steps opposed to setting large ambitious goals that may be difficult or impossible to achieve. It is a good idea to discuss targets with other members, or key people in the process, and review the objective(s). The main reason for a review with a team member, is to challenge the process-owner to determine, if the objective can be attainable. By having others participate in the establishment of the process-specific objective, it will provide accountability, motivation and teamwork for guaranteed success.


Relevant/Realistic – Process-specific targets must be relevant to corporate requirements, customer requirements, regulatory requirements and or other interested parties’ expectations.


Time-specific - Objectives should have a time limit, and best practice is 12-months. It will provide enough time to implement continuous improvement initiatives, monitor progress and make necessary adjustments. It is very important that targets are monitored on a regular basis and reported to the leadership team by the end of the year.


If a process-specific target has been met, it should be either increased or a new target selected for the following year. The process-owner must demonstrate process improvements each year.


However, if the target has not been met, or it is staggering up and down throughout the year, and/or has in some cases remained constant for two or three years, then the process-owner should consider issuing a corrective action for further investigation. Only the process-owner and the team can make the decision about when to develop corrective actions.


Continuous Improvement - PDCA action plans to meet SMART Targets


Too often, action items will include monitoring, reviewing, analyzing, meeting, to name a few examples. But it is not sufficient, and it is only part of the PDCA continuous improvement cycle. Action plans should be developed with responsibilities, action items and timeframes. The timeframe would be normally 12 months and the team should consist of 2 to 3 people to make sure the continuous improvement is progressing.


Sometimes, a larger group may be required, but a maximum of six people in the team is recommended to be productive and move the initiative forward without undue delays. The team may include subject matter experts on the technology and/or cross functional responsibility, such as maintenance, human resources, shipping and receiving, supply chain and logistics.


If the group is too large, for example 10 people on the team, it becomes difficult to coordinate logistics and discussions become longer, and, sometimes, unproductive.


The process-owner should lead group discussions to manage time and show his/her commitment and accountability.


If the company has the means, it would be very useful to have a continuous improvement specialist in the team, who could help with establishment of objectives and creation of continuous improvement initiatives for the process-owners. The continuous improvement person needs to have a background in LEAN manufacturing, Root Cause Analysis techniques, 5S and Six Sigma and can be very instrumental in guiding process-owner(s) in the right direction.


Finally, before starting with establishment of objectives and continuous improvement initiatives, process-owners and personnel, associated with the process, should have adequate training. Training can be provided in-house or by a well-established training organization. In addition, there is a significant amount of literature on the Internet that could be helpful.


Below is an example of SMARTER Objectives, with a “Plan-Do-Act-Check” cycle.


Corrective actions and management review


It is good business practice to generate a corrective action, if objectives have not been met during the annual management review. Arguably, a process had sufficient time to make necessary adjustments in the 12-month period. Generating a corrective action, when an objective has not been met, will help to determine the underlying cause before establishing new objectives for the following year. Or, the current objectives will be adjusted based on the results of the underlying causes.


Objectives should be reviewed every year, most likely, during the management review meetings. Process-owners should discuss their objectives, their accomplishments, when objectives have been met, and underlying causes, when they have not been met.


For those, who have met their objectives, targets should increase, following the same guidelines, discussed in previous sections. And for those, who have not met their objectives, adjustments should be made to lower their targets or to try for another year.


One important fact - the establishment of quantifiable objectives must demonstrate continuous improvement(s), added value and economic benefits. Otherwise, process- owners may waste significant resources, which could be used for other activities. Plant management should challenge the process-owners to ensure they are focused and can demonstrate tangible and quantifiable benefits, when developing and implementing process-specific objectives.


Closing comments


There are five important activities with the establishment of SMART objectives:

  • Selection of the appropriate data and information.
  • Collection and monitoring of data for several months,
    possibly up to one year.
  • Establishment of trend analysis based on the data to determine areas of concerns with identified upward or downward trends.
  • If the areas of concerns persist, or the risk is significant, establishment of targets and continuous improvement initiatives.
  • Targets should be monitored at defined frequency, and performance should be reported at management review meetings.
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Doran, G. T. (1981). "There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives". Management Review. 70(11): 35–36.




Author Biography


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Jean-Guy Cormier, P. Eng.,
Professional Lead Auditor
Moncton, NB. Canada


Industrial engineer Jean-Guy Cormier takes particular pleasure in helping manufacturers and processors of various sizes improve their technology capacity. For years his primary focus was to develop and transfer technologies in the aquaculture industry, seafood processing and small manufacturing industries. That work allowed him to build a broad base of knowledge through his extensive travels around the world.


He is also a specialist in ISO-9001, ISO-14001, Occupational Health and Safety, Food Safety and Food contact packaging, including HACCP, ISO-22000, FSSC 22000 and British Retail Consortium; training and development; and process and productivity improvements. As a professional Lead auditor, he regularly does external management system audits in North and Latin Americas with large international and reputable certification bodies.


“International management system standards are normally generic and not very prescriptive in nature,” he says. “Many small and medium-size, and even large companies, and their respective managers have difficulties understanding some of the requirements of a particular standard. That is because they may not have the skill set and/or sufficient resources, so they struggle with the development and implementation of a management system. This is where I can help them.”


With his extensive working experience with management systems and his affiliation with some of the largest registrars in the world, Jean-Guy provides concrete and practical examples and tools for effective and successful implementation of management systems.


“I take a lot of pride in providing value-added services when I work with a company,” he added. These include monitoring the progress of the project, providing management team with the most current information and tools, identifying strengths and weakness of the management system, proposing practical and systematic solutions and methodology, and providing clear and concise interpretation of each management system standard.


In the past 30 years Jean-Guy has performed more than 1,000 management system audits. He has taught management systems with the Canadian Standards Association Learning Center for 10 years, explaining and clarifying requirements of management systems to companies in the Americas.


Mr. Cormier works with French, English and Spanish-speaking companies. Jean-Guy laid the educational foundation for his impressive skill set with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Industrial Engineering, a five-year degree from Université de Moncton in Canada and Total Quality and Environment System at the Technical University of Nova Scotia in Halifax, Canada. As a life-long learner, he is constantly upgrading his skills to stay up-to-date and be proficient with programs in the standards, mentioned above. He is a Registered Professional Engineer with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of New Brunswick, a Registered Food Safety Lead Auditor with RABQSA, Milwaukee, WI, USA, and a Registered Quality, Environmental, Health and Safety, and Food Safety Lead Audit.


Dear Mr. Jean-Guy Cormier,

Thanks for sharing and posting One of the best Article i ever read and It helped me a lot . Millions Thanks to You . 



Dear Mr. Jean,


thanks for sharing  this article.




Great article!!!  I'll be sharing with my executive team.  I believe success follows a road map and it's laid out in a company's objectives.



Thank you for the excellent article!  This will be very helpful for me at my company when establishing our food safety objectives.  


I had one question regarding the table in appendix A.  There are many great examples of quantifiable objectives/goals in the table organized in rows by functional area, and I'm wondering if the columns are meant to be meaningful in anyway?  For example, is the first column meant to be the objectives and the rest of the columns supporting goals?  


Thanks again for the great article!  



Very much informative, thanks for sharing

Good article. Am now more equiped in understanding the objectives.

Very informative article. Thank you