When it comes to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), how can food and beverage manufacturers get more than the minimum legal compliance? By working with trusted specialist suppliers

If you’re a food and beverage manufacturer, failing to maintain mandated hygiene standards puts both public health and your own future at risk. Ensuring all workers wear the correct PPE for food and drink production is vital, but manufacturers cannot achieve this alone. They need trusted suppliers of PPE.

The coronavirus pandemic shone a spotlight on the importance of these relationships between businesses and suppliers. Of the 1,300 senior indirect procurement professionals from around the world who shared their views on Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO) in the RS Components and Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) Indirect Procurement Report 2021: From Disruption to Recovery, 36% stated that collaboration with suppliers was one of the changes since the onset of COVID-19.

This collaboration takes many forms, with one of the most common being value-added solutions such as managed inventory services. These offer many benefits for organisations, both in terms of MRO and supporting business performance more broadly. Survey respondents, for example, reported visibility of stock and spend (68%), improved productivity (42%) and accessible provision of PPE (40%) as three of the main advantages.

But how can food and beverage manufacturers feel confident that their PPE suppliers are up to the job?

Here Craig Stasik, Industry Sector Manager at RS, and Rob Russell, PPE Business Unit Sales Director at RS Group, share their insights. Both have a wealth of sector experience to draw upon having spent years at food and beverage PPE specialist Needlers, now part of the RS Group, before taking up their current roles.

Protect your people, protect your product
“The difference between PPE within the food and drink world compared to other sectors is that it isn’t all about the protecting the person from risk,” explains Stasik. “It is also about protecting the product from the person making it.”

“Creating a food safe product is critical”Craig Stasik, Industry Sector Manager, RS

“If you’re producing consumable goods, the end customer clearly doesn’t want someone’s hair or part of a blue vinyl glove stuck in the package. Creating a food safe product is critical and you need to know that you have a PPE supplier who can cater for that.”

Russell agrees. “Food and beverage customers are looking for PPE that meets certain standards and specifications to ensure the safe production of food,” he says. “There are cheap gloves out there on the market, for instance, but they may have latex in them, which is a no-no when handling food.”

If you have concerns, the Health and Safety Executive advises asking your PPE supplier the following four questions:

1. Is it suitable for the conditions of the job?
2. Does it offer the right level of protection?
3. What sort of training or maintenance is required?
4. How do I know when it needs replacing?

The risks of prosecution
The consequences of failing to meet required standards are enormous. Statistics from the 2019-2020 Food Standards Agency (FSA) annual report on local authority and food law enforcement, for example, reveal that more than 150,000 food establishments in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were subject to food hygiene enforcements in 2019/20. The overwhelming majority received written warnings but 416 lost their licence to operate and a further 939 closed voluntarily.

Breaching regulations can be costly – for your finances and your reputation

Even if your business is not forced to close, prosecution by the FSA for breaching regulations can be costly – for your finances and your reputation. Owners of a meat processing plant in Birmingham, for instance, received a fine totalling almost £20,000 for food hygiene offences including failing to ensure staff wore appropriate PPE such as hairnets and beard snoods. That is without considering the costs involved if a production line or entire plant has to close, even if only temporarily, as well as the expense of contracts suspended or terminated.

Value-added support
Legal compliance is, however, a minimum requirement, not the sole requirement.

“PPE needs to be good enough quality to enable the wearer to perform the task in hand without compromise”Rob Russell, PPE Business Unit Sales Director, RS Group

“The manufacturer’s needs go beyond what’s laid out in the legislation,” says Russell. “PPE needs to be good enough quality to enable the wearer to perform the task in hand without compromise too. This means products that are fit for purpose rather than products designed just to offer low prices.

“Take wellington boots. Although polyurethane leather (PU) boots cost around four times as much, they are more comfortable for the wearer, have the highest level of anti-slip sole and offer and offer a cost-in-use benefit because they last longer.”

Food and beverage manufacturers also need continuity of supply. “In terms of what customers are looking for, it’s reliability,” says Stasik. “Especially after the supply chain disruption of the last couple of years.

“Food and beverage production businesses want to ensure they have seamless control because in the manufacturing world, if the supplier runs out of an essential product, they run out of an essential product and operations grind to a halt.

“They need PPE suppliers who have that foresight and plan for levels of demand.”

Does working with an industry specialist help? Most definitely, believes Russell. “We know what’s important,” he states. “Certain items of PPE, for example, are what we call showstoppers. Without these, production cannot continue – therefore if we run out, it could bring a customer’s operations to a stop.

“We mitigate this risk by overstocking on those lines, such as gloves and mob caps, that are critical for food production.”

Stronger together
Suppliers with sector expertise can support food and beverage manufacturers in tackling other business challenges such as rising costs. “We understand how a food factory works, meaning we can walk into a manufacturing facility and see things that others don’t,” says Russell.

“Being industry specialists, we can see where we can add value in terms of providing a cost-in-use solution without compromising on quality.”

This is about moving beyond a transactional approach to a more holistic relationship between supplier and customer. “Anything we can do to make it easier for customers or remove some of the pain will allow them to better address the challenges they face,” says Stasik.

“Value-added solutions are an area where we can help. By reducing processing costs, they offer another route for them to keep the products they want despite inflation.”

The acquisition of Needlers by RS means both specialist expertise and a broad range of solutions are now available for food and beverage manufacturers in one place – and Russell is clear about how customers of both brands will benefit from them joining forces.

“There’s a more complete solution to the customer,” he says, “with real advantages as a one-stop shop supplying a comprehensive and competitive PPE proposal.

“Together we’re much stronger than apart.”

Discover how Needlers and RS combining can offer your business a total PPE supply solution, backed by proven industry expertise. Click here.