Imagine trying to play a game of Monopoly for the first time without the instructions. Or drive a car if you’d never seen it done before. It would be nearly impossible. Rules – or standards – are essential to making sure that everything runs smoothly and that the goals you set out to accomplish are within reach.

Your standard operating procedures (SOPs) are the backbone of your food safety strategy. Without SOPs in place, each time you underwent a food safety audit you wouldn’t know what to expect or how to correct any problems the audit uncovered.

But just because standard operating procedures are essential in food testing and safety does not mean that they are written in stone. Your standard procedures should be consistently evaluated and reviewed for relevance and efficacy.

So how do you evaluate your standards and ensure that you are doing all you can to foster an environment of safety for food testing and food analysis in your facility?

Write Procedures Clearly

It will be easier to review your food safety SOPs if they are written in a way that is easy to understand. Each facility department will have their own SOPs, and those should be written in such a way that anyone with basic knowledge of that department can understand them. It is important here to distinguish between someone who has basic understanding and someone with no knowledge or training. You procedures do not need to be so specific that anyone off the street could complete them. If you want to begin the review process of your procedures, start by reviewing the language for clarity and conciseness.

Do a Hands-On Review

Of course, reviewing the language is not enough. What seems clear to one person may not be clear at all to someone else. Hands-on analysis of the procedure is essential in the review process. Have the department owner, or whoever will be tasked with the procedure, do a walk through based on the current written procedure. Be sure that this process happens each time a new responsible party comes on board.

During the walkthrough, the individual should take note each time they are not clear on what to do or how to do it. After they have completed the walkthrough, be sure that the ‘tester’ has ample time to debrief with the food safety manager and give his or her input.

Always Make Improvements

The SOP review process should not be viewed as perfunctory. Rather, your facility SOPs should be treated as living documents that always have room for improvement. Every standard should have an associated goal, and should be regularly evaluated for whether or not it is achieving that goal. Food Safety Magazine (for one) describes this process as a “continuous improvement cycle.” Each time you make a change, enact that change, then test it to ensure that it is accomplishing its goal. When it is not, or when it could do better, make another change and start over again. If you treat your standard operating procedures as a food analysis manager or food safety professional as a starting point rather than as cast in stone, you will have much better outcomes.