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What would you do if a supplier won't complete your questionnaire?


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#1 The Food Scientist

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Posted 18 October 2019 - 01:20 PM

So one of our suppliers was sent the Approved Supplier packet to fill and this was their response: 

 

The first question on this 4 page form asks for the name and location of the actual manufacturer.  That is proprietary information and I will not disclose that for any products we sell.

 

This questionnaire is incorrectly written.  Most of the information they are asking for is already included in the documents we provided to you (many of which I am attaching here once again for you to submit to your QC Dept). The problem is that in many QC Departments no one actually spends the time to read and understand the documentation provided, they instead want to simply check boxes off on a list and stick the papers in a file to forget about them.  If they had actually read the documents we provided, they would not need to ask all of the redundant questions in this questionnaire. 

 

For example, in our allergen declaration we clearly confirm that we do not process, pack or even store any of the 8 USFDA identified allergens (milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts).  We furthermore do not even procure any products whatsoever from any factory anywhere in the world that processes any of these allergens.  Furthermore, we do not even process anything onsite anyway, and had your QC Dept taken the time to read our documents previously submitted, they would know that.  Thus there is absolutely zero risk of allergen cross-contamination in our warehouse, while we hold our inventory. Yet, your QC dept asks me to repeat all of that allergen by allergen on their form, which even worse must be written by hand on your printed form because they did not provide it in a format that can be edited.

 

I started to complete your questionnaire, but I will not continue it.  Aside from the questions which are plainly redundant (as the information has already been provided to you), after spending 10 minutes I realize that most of the questions under Section D are completely non-applicable, and yet they do not allow for choosing n/a as an option. This questionnaire was written for a manufacturer. Your QC Department should send us instead a proper questionnaire for a distributor.

 

Regarding pest control, I believe that is included in our SGS audit inspection report, but anyway we use 3rd party with regular monthly inspections and we have monthly reports in file for the past 3 years.

 

We have already sent you our SGS Audit Inspection report from the most recent on-site inspection in May 2019 (see attached again), and our Allergen Declaration (see attached again), and a host of other documents including our HACCP/HARPC Declaration (see attached again).

 

I really feel this entire process is a designed waste of time, and my strong preference is not to spend additional time on this.  If they send us a proper questionnaire, a simplified version, designed for a distributor and without all of the redundancies, then I will complete and sign that form and return it to you within 2 week of receipt (or earlier if I am not travelling).

 

 

 

It seems to me that they're just too lazy to continue a simple questionnaire. We all know their duty is to fill it out AND attach documentation where applicable. Do they really think we have to mold questionnaires to fit their processes??? Simply just put N/A on the things that do not apply! 

 

What would everyone do? I'd like to hear some suggestions from the folks here :)


Everything in food is science. The only subjective part is when you eat it. - Alton Brown.


#2 arahman

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Posted 18 October 2019 - 01:32 PM

Seems like they were in a really bad mood! :headhurts:

 

You could write to them and insist that as part of your certificate requirement all suppliers(manufacturers/distributors) need to fill out the questionnaire and attach documents where required or you could fill it our for this supplier and ask them to sign off at the bottom?

 

On our supplier approval and monitoring program, I have a stipulation saying the questionnaire need only be signed off in the absence of a GFSI recognized scheme for food manufacturers so suppliers don't have to fill it out if they have provided us all the other documents(reports, certificates, specs, allergen lists sand so on).

 

although I understand why these questionnaires are useful, I think as long as you do have all the documents required and they are compliant, I would rather have those documents than a simple yes/no questionnaire.



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#3 pHruit

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Posted 18 October 2019 - 02:08 PM

It is difficult to comment without the full context of the steps leading up to this, and as a BRC-certified site we'd instantly have to reject the supplier for refusing to disclose the actual manufacturer, but I have to say I read that with a degree of sympathy for whoever typed it.

I don't know about the rest of you, but we're being buried in ever-longer questionnaires asking for data that is duplicated and serves no purpose. For example, if I've sent the full BRC audit report and the site allergen policy/control details (comprehensive, designed to answer customer questions in this area) then I'm not going to be thrilled at filling out three sides of A4 on allergens. I'm even less excited to fill out a page of questions on how we handle segregation of meat species, given that we don't handle an any meat...

I do think the supplier's response oversteps the line in terms of acceptable tactfulness and professional decorum - whilst it is increasingly frequently tempting to tell customers into which orifice they can insert their needlessly long questionnaire that they probably aren't going to read, one should try to remain professional and polite in all communications.

 

How is your questionnaire structured/designed? IMO there is value in having a modular approach whereby certain sections can be skipped completely if GFSI-benchmarked certification is in place, or if their own documents genuinely provide all of the relevant answers. Nonetheless we do still have issues with suppliers deciding that they've provided what they think we need, rather than what they actually need.

 

And I don't know about the US, but in the UK their is a plague of collecting information for its own sake ("retailer x says we need to ask everyone for ...") and not actually reading it/using it. As the supplier it's not really my position to tell customers what is/isn't valid (even when it's  painfully apparent), but equally it is damned frustrating using my budget to pay for staff to handle this stuff knowing that a growing proportion of it serves no purpose other than sitting on a hard drive for the sake of being able to say it exists.

 

Overall it comes down to a commercial decision - if you require disclosure of the manufacturer then I'd call rather than email them (harder to misconstrue tone that way) and explain that this is mandatory for all suppliers, and without it you unfortunately won't be able to purchase from them. Possibly get your purchasing department involved too.

As for the questionnaire, I'd look to compromise here - you can explain that it has been designed to meet the specific needs of your business and your customers, and that it is focussed on manufacturing as you need to approve the manufacturer. If the information they've provided genuinely and comprehensively answers the questions then I'd let them skip those sections.

 

Nonetheless their message doesn't exactly shout positivity, and isn't a great start to a supplier relationship. I think I'd also be looking at what alternative supplier options were available ;)



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#4 The Food Scientist

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Posted 18 October 2019 - 02:22 PM

It is difficult to comment without the full context of the steps leading up to this, and as a BRC-certified site we'd instantly have to reject the supplier for refusing to disclose the actual manufacturer, but I have to say I read that with a degree of sympathy for whoever typed it.

I don't know about the rest of you, but we're being buried in ever-longer questionnaires asking for data that is duplicated and serves no purpose. For example, if I've sent the full BRC audit report and the site allergen policy/control details (comprehensive, designed to answer customer questions in this area) then I'm not going to be thrilled at filling out three sides of A4 on allergens. I'm even less excited to fill out a page of questions on how we handle segregation of meat species, given that we don't handle an any meat...

I do think the supplier's response oversteps the line in terms of acceptable tactfulness and professional decorum - whilst it is increasingly frequently tempting to tell customers into which orifice they can insert their needlessly long questionnaire that they probably aren't going to read, one should try to remain professional and polite in all communications.

 

How is your questionnaire structured/designed? IMO there is value in having a modular approach whereby certain sections can be skipped completely if GFSI-benchmarked certification is in place, or if their own documents genuinely provide all of the relevant answers. Nonetheless we do still have issues with suppliers deciding that they've provided what they think we need, rather than what they actually need.

 

And I don't know about the US, but in the UK their is a plague of collecting information for its own sake ("retailer x says we need to ask everyone for ...") and not actually reading it/using it. As the supplier it's not really my position to tell customers what is/isn't valid (even when it's  painfully apparent), but equally it is damned frustrating using my budget to pay for staff to handle this stuff knowing that a growing proportion of it serves no purpose other than sitting on a hard drive for the sake of being able to say it exists.

 

Overall it comes down to a commercial decision - if you require disclosure of the manufacturer then I'd call rather than email them (harder to misconstrue tone that way) and explain that this is mandatory for all suppliers, and without it you unfortunately won't be able to purchase from them. Possibly get your purchasing department involved too.

As for the questionnaire, I'd look to compromise here - you can explain that it has been designed to meet the specific needs of your business and your customers, and that it is focussed on manufacturing as you need to approve the manufacturer. If the information they've provided genuinely and comprehensively answers the questions then I'd let them skip those sections.

 

Nonetheless their message doesn't exactly shout positivity, and isn't a great start to a supplier relationship. I think I'd also be looking at what alternative supplier options were available ;)

 

So we just requested the questionnaire be filled out and if specified, they should attach documents. They only attached documents and some I have missing so it makes me wonder why is it missing? Due to no questionnaire being filled out. I would know exactly what they sent and why with the questionnaire. Yes I agree that filling these out is a real pain. We just have a typical 3 page questionnaire that asks about general food safety quality pertaining to GFSI certified sites... the usual questions. If it doesnt apply simply put a N/A. Which is their case. But me missing a few documents just makes me wonder why, so having that questionnaire as reference to why its missing is reasonable. 


Everything in food is science. The only subjective part is when you eat it. - Alton Brown.


#5 pHruit

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Posted 18 October 2019 - 03:01 PM

Ok, in that case I'd give them one more chance and speak to them on Monday to see if they just had a really bad day, otherwise I'd look elsewhere. A three page questionnaire is tiny by modern standards - they can still be annoying, but it takes longer to argue about it than it does to fill it out. Really doesn't make them look like the sort of proactive supplier you'd want to work with!



#6 majoy

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Posted 18 October 2019 - 03:13 PM

I find this response disrespectful by a very upset and most likely tired employee (or cocky owner) in charge of answering questionnaires, could've worded it more professional and kind.

 

But, in all fairness most of the venting is understandable (e.g. forms being not fillable on-line and handwritten, redundant questions etc), do you feel this is a trend among your suppliers or this supplier is just the only one who doesn't want to fill out the forms?

 

If this kind of response is more common, i would suggest to review your forms and update it, put yourself in your suppliers shoes in answering the questions - maybe you'll see/feel its annoying too.

 

Most suppliers nowadays will have their own packet or set of documents to send, if they have their own, we just review it and ensure all we required is included on their packet. We do not insist that our forms are filled out, because we read and review supplier submitted documents.

 

We have separate forms for food supplier, packaging supplier and give out templates for any letters we need from suppliers etc. this way, the information they need to give us is applicable to them and if all else, we ask them to just note N/A if not applicable.


"Whatever you do, do it well..." - Walt Disney


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#7 The Food Scientist

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Posted 18 October 2019 - 03:23 PM

I find this response disrespectful by a very upset and most likely tired employee (or cocky owner) in charge of answering questionnaires, could've worded it more professional and kind.

 

But, in all fairness most of the venting is understandable (e.g. forms being not fillable on-line and handwritten, redundant questions etc), do you feel this is a trend among your suppliers or this supplier is just the only one who doesn't want to fill out the forms?

 

If this kind of response is more common, i would suggest to review your forms and update it, put yourself in your suppliers shoes in answering the questions - maybe you'll see/feel its annoying too.

 

Most suppliers nowadays will have their own packet or set of documents to send, if they have their own, we just review it and ensure all we required is included on their packet. We do not insist that our forms are filled out, because we read and review supplier submitted documents.

 

We have separate forms for food supplier, packaging supplier and give out templates for any letters we need from suppliers etc. this way, the information they need to give us is applicable to them and if all else, we ask them to just note N/A if not applicable.

 

No, this is the only supplier that gave us that response! We have other "larger suppliers" that I am sure have way more less time than these folks, yet never hesitated to provide us with the paperwork we need.  Yup I understand their frustration, but really its not a long one.  I guess I am going to do separate ones for packing, manufacturer & distributor.


Everything in food is science. The only subjective part is when you eat it. - Alton Brown.


#8 QAGB

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Posted 18 October 2019 - 04:53 PM

Echoing everyone else here, the supplier that wrote this was very rude. I understand their feelings, as I have felt every bit of that in having to respond to everyone's specialized questionnaires, but I never voiced that opinion to my customers. I do like having a job....so, decorum is always a must.

 

With that being said, I think your questionnaire is relatively small. We've filled out 20-25 page questionnaires where we literally could have sent them our company statements to suffice. I understand where they are coming from with the allergen portion of it. Many times I have received a questionnaire that had a 300000234902935 line grid of sensitizing agents to be completed, and we had whole statements with the same information. In some instances, I have been known to fill this out with "please see statement attached". If they push back, I'll fill out the detailed grid. 

 

No one likes filling these out, and as such, only required my suppliers to fill out a questionnaire if they weren't GFSI certified. I kept it straight and to the point, just enough to satisfy our needs.

 

You should try to make different questionnaires for different agents. I have also worked in the distribution world, and I can say that even the most simple questionnaire for a food facility is not really that easy for a distributor. It is hard to figure out sometimes whether to fill out a questionnaire as the distributor, or on behalf of the vendor(s). You as the customer could be buying 25 items from them as the distributor, and then they could be buying those 25 items from 25 different vendors. Therefore, a simple question for a food facility like "Do you have a lot code explanation - and share this with us" becomes 25x more challenging.

 

I'm also of the agreement that you should look for an alternative supplier for whatever material you are buying (or plan to buy) from them. If their QA lead is going to be that awful to start...I can't imagine you will ever get much support from them on anything.



#9 zanorias

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Posted 18 October 2019 - 05:26 PM

Considering the supplier is complaining about the questionnaire wasting time but going to the lengths of writing that reply to you, I get the sense that they are generally fed up with questionnaire/info requests but you were the unlucky one who received the rant. I agree with pHruit regarding some sympathy to the situation but at the same time being professional. Perhaps this supplier was just blowing off steam and will be cooperative next week. However I'd still be concerned; it isn't ideal to have suppliers you can't consistently rely on for info.



#10 SQFconsultant

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Posted 18 October 2019 - 05:37 PM

I like what my client Oscar did to several of his suppliers that got their pants in a bunch over asking for list of items.... he dumped them, contacted the owner/president of each supplier and told them we are dumping  you as a supplier because your representative (QA, Sales, whatever) will not provide us with the Approved Supplier information that we need.

 

He then hung up the phone on each one and waited.'

 

With  the exception of one, all complied.  The one was actually dumped for for failure to have anything on food safety.


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#11 QAGB

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Posted 18 October 2019 - 06:04 PM

Considering the supplier is complaining about the questionnaire wasting time but going to the lengths of writing that reply to you, I get the sense that they are generally fed up with questionnaire/info requests but you were the unlucky one who received the rant. I agree with pHruit regarding some sympathy to the situation but at the same time being professional. Perhaps this supplier was just blowing off steam and will be cooperative next week. However I'd still be concerned; it isn't ideal to have suppliers you can't consistently rely on for info.

 

 

I can have some sympathy too...but if they are that uncooperative for this, can you imagine how uncooperative they will be with any complaints or even getting future documentation from them? 

 

I have dealt with uncooperative and non-responsive suppliers, but I've never come across one that came off this disrespectful. Someone should have walked away from their computer for a while and blew off some steam. 



#12 zanorias

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Posted 18 October 2019 - 06:13 PM

I can have some sympathy too...but if they are that uncooperative for this, can you imagine how uncooperative they will be with any complaints or even getting future documentation from them?

I have dealt with uncooperative and non-responsive suppliers, but I've never come across one that came off this disrespectful. Someone should have walked away from their computer for a while and blew off some steam.


I agree, and that's what I was getting at in my last sentence; I wouldn't like to be in a traceability or something like that and need to rely on that supplier to be cooperative.

#13 BostonCream

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Posted 18 October 2019 - 06:46 PM

I bet they never filled a Walmart Product Specification. That was the most redundant excel sheet I've ever seen. Many of the questions were NA but they require "every cell to be filled in", and "insert supporting document in each necessary cell"


Edited by yiyi, 18 October 2019 - 06:48 PM.


#14 Foodworker

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Posted 18 October 2019 - 07:15 PM

A point to keep in mind if you are BRC certified, is that most of the BRC Standards now say that questionnaires are for use in exceptional low risk situations. With any luck, this will reduce the numbers of bland and non applicable questionnaires in circulation. 

 

The downside of this is finding a realistic way of approving non GFSI certified international suppliers. 



#15 The Food Scientist

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Posted 18 October 2019 - 08:59 PM

I bet they never filled a Walmart Product Specification. That was the most redundant excel sheet I've ever seen. Many of the questions were NA but they require "every cell to be filled in", and "insert supporting document in each necessary cell"

 

OHHH! I've seen those before! Made me want to pull my hair out! 


Everything in food is science. The only subjective part is when you eat it. - Alton Brown.


#16 fepuhe

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Posted 19 October 2019 - 08:33 AM

Some suppliers tell at the beginning that the name and location of the manufacturing are confidential, this is especially true of suppliers who are trading companies. However, with communication and approaches by our purchasing, and a good MOU between trading and manufacturing, the risks of concern will be minimal.

We have left the practice of filling out the survey with suppliers, but turned it into a few checklist and short entries. The Purchasing Department will first fill in and then send it to the supplier.



#17 Charles.C

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Posted 19 October 2019 - 09:35 PM

Of course the document may genuinely be a  poorly laid out Questionnaire ? (no offence intended).?

 

And adressed to someone who has not the slightest interest in being a supplier of XYZ.

 

It might assist comments to post a copy of the Questionnaire ?

 

Frankly I have also occasionally felt like responding with comments such as in the OP but refrained due to intrinsic politeness + awareness of the probability of internal flashbacks.


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#18 The Food Scientist

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Posted 25 November 2019 - 04:49 PM

Alright folks,

 

In regards to this post last month, and To Mr. Charles request, I'd like to share the questionnaire with you all and would love some feedback! 

 

(Now I do believe there are many questions that are a waste of time, and only need an attachment and not 50 questions).

 

Thank you! Appreciated :)

 

 

Attached Files


Edited by The Food Scientist, 25 November 2019 - 04:49 PM.

Everything in food is science. The only subjective part is when you eat it. - Alton Brown.


#19 The Food Scientist

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Posted 25 November 2019 - 05:08 PM

I know part D is going to give everyone a headache :) I believe most if not all should be eliminated or at least simplified!


Everything in food is science. The only subjective part is when you eat it. - Alton Brown.


#20 KSMFF

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Posted 25 November 2019 - 06:01 PM

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong or if I'm just nitpicking, but instead of HARPC, you should be asking for a food safety plan and evidence of a PCQI. 



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#21 QAGB

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Posted 25 November 2019 - 07:23 PM

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong or if I'm just nitpicking, but instead of HARPC, you should be asking for a food safety plan and evidence of a PCQI. 

 

 

Yes - I was told that HARPC was an outdated term when I went through FSMA training a couple years ago. 

 

Also - I didn't think Part D was bad. Part J is probably where I would probably stop filling this out - aside from section K. (because the answers are different depending on product). We had multiple product categories, and micro ranges were different between those categories...so I would not be filling out that chart of micro limits/ranges. I'd probably state "please see spec sheets for ranges". Same for sections L and M. If I'm only supplying 1 product, that would be the only way I would completely fill in this document. 

 

All in all, not a bad document, and really not one to blow a gasket over.


Edited by QAGB, 25 November 2019 - 07:25 PM.


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#22 pHruit

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Posted 25 November 2019 - 08:37 PM

I won't go into fine details as I'm not in the US so less familiar with the specifics, but a couple of quick thoughts:

 

1) I'd be inclined to open with the question on GFSI status (and indeed I do for our own questionnaires), and give an option to skip some/all of the subsequent questions if info is provided, and particularly so if the supplier is willing to share audit report / NC details. If I received this questionnaire I'd sigh slightly before speaking with the salesperson that managed your account, to decide whether you were a sufficiently big spender for me or my team to have to go through answering a lot of questions that are covered to a large extent by the various GFSI-benchmarked scheme, or to simply respond that our BRC certification covers the requirements and give you a copy of the certificate and audit report.

 

2) As per QAGB's comment, for the micro section there is no way in a million years I'd be writing out individual micro data per product - I'd simply write "please refer to individual product specification". Perhaps you could restructure this to ask if specifications detail microbiological limits, and if not, for the supplier to attached a document detailing these?

 

3) For the allergen section you may wish to make explicit reference to a single definition of the scope of the allergens. This may be less relevant if you only source from within the US, but given that the concept of e.g. nuts differs between international markets I generally think it is useful to remove all ambiguity, particularly for an area that is potentially so significant. Again if I received this I'd be adding my own notes stating the definitions that form the basis of the answers I've given, because I'm pedantic like that, but I generally try to structure such things in a way that removes room for differing interpretations, particularly where it can be done relatively easily.



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#23 The Food Scientist

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Posted 25 November 2019 - 08:39 PM

Yes - I was told that HARPC was an outdated term when I went through FSMA training a couple years ago. 

 

Also - I didn't think Part D was bad. Part J is probably where I would probably stop filling this out - aside from section K. (because the answers are different depending on product). We had multiple product categories, and micro ranges were different between those categories...so I would not be filling out that chart of micro limits/ranges. I'd probably state "please see spec sheets for ranges". Same for sections L and M. If I'm only supplying 1 product, that would be the only way I would completely fill in this document. 

 

All in all, not a bad document, and really not one to blow a gasket over.

 

 

Yup they dont really use that term any longer, just for training purposes (when I took my PCQI)

 

Thank you for your feedback! I guess that supplier was just having a bad day? I mean the questionnaire isn't even long! 


Everything in food is science. The only subjective part is when you eat it. - Alton Brown.


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#24 VickieLew

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Posted 26 November 2019 - 04:19 PM

While I can understand some of the supplier's rant, I agree it was not professional and certainly not conducive to developing a supplier-customer relationship!
Something to keep in mind; at some point we are all a supplier and a customer. What do you consider tedious and unnecessary questions in the forms you are asked to complete as a customer? The questionnaire that is subject of this conversation is not unique, IMO it's fairly typical. I've seen better and I've seen worse.

I don't fill these questionnaires out, nor do I request suppliers to fill them out. I do however, use (try to use) the information on the questionnaire, along with other required documentation, to do item food safety assessments. If I ever went on a rant about these documents, my focus would still be about the value of the questions...but from different perspective. I estimate that >90% of the time, what I want to know and need to know in order to do a thorough food safety assessment, isn't in the questionnaire, or other required documents. The food safety related questions are usually very generic and vague, for example, "Do you have a HACCP plan/FSP?". Is there really value in that question? Personally, I have never seen a supplier answer "NO".
Or how about this question, "Have you identified CCPs and/or PCs?". Again, I can't recall ever seeing that one answered "NO" either. But what does a "YES" really tell us? What CCPs and/or PCs have been identified AND for control of what hazards? Has the CCP/PC been validated, if appropriate?
I've been a practicing food safety microbiologist for 30+ years, I typically know what hazards should be identified and controlled by a CCP/PC. When I am doing a food safety risk assessment, I want to see documented proof that the supplier does too. This information, e.g., identified hazards, risk assessment of those hazards to determine which require control by a CCP/PC, and finally what the control mechanism is, is never part of the typical questionnaire.
My wish is that the questions be less redundant and more value-added instead. Of course, when companies are using supply chain software, using a questionnaire that can be uploaded with all of the redundant information is very convenient for our company employees that manage this program. At the end of the day....I guess current state of these questionnaires are a necessary evil.
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Posted 26 November 2019 - 11:52 PM

I agree with VickieLew...but I also agree with your supplier, rude as the email was, it was pretty specific about why you had the information you needed already.

 

I've come around on questionnaires, they're not helpful when filled out by the customer, it's much more helpful if YOU fill them out based on an interview/review of their documentation. Otherwise it's a paperpushing audit-checkbox exercise that wastes everyone's time. Especially under FSMA where your suppliers controls are your controls (ugh), it's much more effective from an actual risk standpoint for you to complete an internal review of the supplier and their processes, rather than receive back a questionnaire that you're really just reviewing for completeness.


Austin Bouck
Owner/Consultant at Fur, Farm, and Fork.
Consulting for companies needing effective, lean food safety systems and solutions.

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