Q&A with Jasmin Hernandez, Quality Assurance Manager

In celebration of Merit’s second time achieving the highest score possible (AA) for an announced food safety audit from the British Retail Consortium Global Standard (BRCGS), we sat down with Quality Assurance Manager, Jasmin Hernandez, for a Q&A session to learn more about what food safety and quality mean to Merit and our impressive food safety and quality program and culture.

Q – Merit’s QA team is a passionate group dedicated to food safety and quality – what is the vision that drives the success of this department?

We are definitely a passionate and dedicated crew! Our department is driven by a desire to create a world class food safety and quality program that exceeds industry standards and sets continuous improvement goals along the way. As producers of the first food-grade canola protein, we are also focused on leading the way in food safety and quality for a novel ingredient, which is work we are proud of.

Q – Why did Merit choose to become BRCGS Global Food Safety Certified?

Our decision to become BRCGS certified was strategic.

As a leader in the plant-based protein industry, we were looking for a globally recognized food safety program that was leading the way in their respective field. We knew that BRCGS was an ideal match, as they have top-notch written Standards which include risk-based assessments. They have also proven their ability to stay ahead of industry expectations, having been the first program to demand focus on Food Safety Culture, which is the backbone of any solid program. Many of our team members also had positive experiences using the Standard in previous companies, so it’s a program we already recognized and had a commitment towards.

Additionally, numerous top food and beverage companies will only work with suppliers who are BRSGS food safety certified because it’s a standard they are familiar with and trust. Acknowledging this, we knew that BRSGS certification was necessary for our high-quality pea and canola protein to be used in leading plant-based CPG brands.

Q – For two years running, Merit has achieved the highest score of AA awarded for an announced food safety audit by BRCGS – what do you credit this achievement to?

Achieving an AA score as a start-up company speaks volumes about our commitment to food safety and quality. We got it right from the beginning!

We had the privilege of implementing many parts of the standard while our production facility was being built, which helped embed the Standard into our culture and ensured we were set up for success before we were commercial.

Many of the critical tasks we were able to implement during this time included:

  • Carefully interviewing and selecting suppliers who were the right fit for our company
  • Selecting the best partners for our Certification Bodies
  • Selecting our preferred software systems to organize our records
  • Drafting our preliminary HACCP plan
  • Setting up our in-house laboratory for specification and performance testing
  • Preparing for our commissioning phase and validation
  • Completing regulatory items, including registering our canola protein as a novel food product, and obtaining our SCFR license with CFIA and our Food establishment license with the province of Manitoba

Additionally, we couldn’t have accomplished our high score without incredible teamwork and commitment from every department. Implementing the Standard was a long process with lots of moving parts, which required all hands-on deck to ensure we were starting off on the right foot. And now with our certification in place, we are all accountable and take pride in our fulfillment to the BRCGS Standards.

We are also continuously performing internal audits to assess ourselves against the standard and hold monthly management meetings to gauge performance and review KPIs with the team. This gives visibility to our strengths and areas which require additional attention.

The combination of all this and more have helped us maintain our AA BRCGS score for two years running!

Q – How does Merit’s BRCGS certification streamline their approval process with customers?

Most customers who use value-added ingredients like Merit’s highly functional pea and canola protein have a certain expectation of their suppliers. Being BRCGS certified makes it easy to present the components of the program to customers and gives them a sense of confidence in our food safety and quality program, and transparent supply chain.

Often, being BRCGS certified can help speed up supplier approval processes because less paperwork is required when your food safety and quality program is recognized by a customer. Also as previously mentioned, with certain customers, being BRCGS certified is a condition for doing business with them. This means that our BRCGS certification ensures we can supply the top plant-based food and beverage companies with Merit’s highly functional non-GMO pea and canola protein ingredients.

Q – How does the Standard help build Merit’s food safety culture?

The Standard acts as the foundation for our food safety culture and sets expectations for our team, who are introduced to it as part of their training. Everyone learns our food safety rules from day one.

Communication is also key to building our culture! Our team is comfortable keeping each other accountable. We speak up if we see a team member who isn’t following proper procedures and we guide them to the correct protocol. Everyone takes pride in maintaining our standard and we all uphold them in our daily activities

We also have continual conversations with our Operators to discuss what food safety and culture is and how we define it. This instills a sense of contribution and accountability and provides opportunity to review what’s working and where there needs to be improvements.

Based on the open dialogues I’ve had with our team, I can confidently say we all agree that when it comes to Merit’s food safety and quality, only the best will do!

About Jasmin Hernandez:

As Quality Assurance Manager, Jasmin is engaged in the implementation and maintenance of the Food Safety and Quality Management System (FSQMS) at Merit Functional Foods. Jasmin and her team collaborate with all departments to ensure Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and all elements of the British Retail Consortium Global Standard (BRCGS) program are fully implemented and executed. She strives to create a strong, world-class Food Safety Culture by continuously engaging all team members in Food Safety and Quality initiatives. With over 8 years of experience in food & beverage, Jasmin is viewed within the industry as a leader in FSQMS design, implementation, and execution.

About the BRCGS Certification:

Developed with input from industry, the BRCGS food safety certification provides a framework to manage product safety, integrity, legality and quality, and the operational controls for these criteria in the food and food ingredient manufacturing, processing, and packing industry.

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