We are SALSA (Safe and Local Supplier Approval)

In a few weeks time, Yorkshire Dales Distillery will be 5 years old and what a journey it has been.  From our home, set at the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, our path has been long and not a little bumpy, especially over the last 12 months, but we are now in a great position to move forward and, even more so, given that we are delighted to have achieved SALSA Approval following a thorough independent inspection!

SALSA is one of the 2 major food safety standards in the UK operating alongside the BRC (British Retail Consortium) Global Standard.  In order to achieve approval, the Team at the Distillery had to demonstrate to an independent auditor that products are made to the highest standards of food safety and legality and that the business has an enduring commitment to maintaining and improving these standards.  The requirements are far above and beyond those needed to meet the minimum standards required for mandatory approval by the Local Authority.  Launched in 2007, partnered with the NFU, the Food & Drink Federation, UKHospitality and supported by the Institute of Food Science and Technology, the SALSA Standard gives the Distillery internationally recognised certification of which, I think, we can be justifiably proud.

The impending arrival of an experienced auditor at the Distillery certainly focussed the mind as this was to be the first occasion that anyone from outside our own Team analysed in fine detail what we do and how we do it.  However, although extremely challenging from a purely business perspective, the last 12 months had not been wasted in ensuring that we were well prepared.  We knew that the Distillery was conceptually built on the implementation of the highest standards but the key was to be able to demonstrate this in a manner that was easy for someone with no prior knowledge of the business to understand and to be able to back it up with solid evidence.

Our first challenge was to make some physical changes to the layout of the Distillery.  This included the removal of some existing internal walls to enable improved efficiency in the flow of production.  Our 2 stills were relocated, with associated plumbing, wiring and drainage, new storage areas constructed and a new Open Bottle Area created. Outside, we installed a new area of secure hard standing for the storage of pallets of bottles and improved drainage.

Then it was time to review all of the fundamental policies and procedures, essential for running any food or drink manufacturing business.  This is the first target of an Audit and an area that is very easy to slip up on through a simple oversight.  Everything must be covered from cleaning programmes, equipment maintenance and pest control to raw material intake and the prevention of cross contamination by allergens.  Any amendments that we identified then had to be reflected in our record keeping and staff training in order to build and maintain sufficient evidence.

The crux of an inspection by SALSA is the review of the preparation and implementation of the HACCP Plan by the business.  For those less familiar with the jargon, a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point Plan (a process first developed by NASA in the 1960s and now used almost universally by food and drink manufacturers) enables the logical assessment of significant risks, determines the steps required to reduce these risks to an acceptable level and ensures that the systems put in place are monitored and reviewed to ensure that they are effective.  Following a number of changes, our HACCP Plan required comprehensive review and ultimately led to the development of systems which were overly complex.  Advice during the Audit has enabled us to modify our approach, make some immediate adjustments and ensure that our future annual reviews of our HACCP Plan are more effective.

Perhaps of equal importance to the HACCP Plan is the approach that is taken to traceability.  The Distillery has to demonstrate an enduring ability to trace raw materials through production into finished spirits and then to the customer.  This means that in the event that a problem is identified with an ingredient or bottle, for example, we can work out which products are affected and take appropriate corrective action.  It is also necessary to be able to trace from finished product on the shelf back to the raw materials that were used to produce it.  The Distillery must then be able to demonstrate robust procedures for dealing with incidents where tracing is required.  This can be quite taxing but fortunately we were not found wanting.

Our experience of our first external inspection of this type was extremely positive and we are very grateful for the constructive approach taken by the Auditor.  We won’t be resting on our laurels and, in what we hope is a busy year ahead, there will be plenty of work completed to ensure that our performance is even better next year and annually in the years to come.