Quality Assurance

Our Quality Assurance (QA) team consists of more than 100 associates - 43 full-time personnel on the corporate QA staff and 60 contracted inspectors - dedicated to one mission: delivering Sysco Brand products that meet the most exacting safety, reliability and quality standards.

They do this by:

  • Defining product quality and food safety standards, specifications and procedures;
  • Qualifying suppliers for Sysco branding who can conform to our stringent food safety and quality measures; and
  • Monitoring suppliers and their products throughout the supply chain.

Through ongoing plant audits, inspections and product evaluations, the QA team fulfills Sysco's vision of being our customer's most valued and trusted business partner by delivering products that meet exacting safety, reliability and quality standards.

Our quality assurance program has a global presence with products being sourced from more than 40 countries worldwide. We have formalized inspection programs under our Point Source Inspection Program at more than 130 approved overseas supply facilities in Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia to monitor products for quality and safety prior to delivery to our North American companies.

Sysco suppliers also must undergo annual independent food safety audits that supplement our team's direct monitoring, providing further assurance of consistently safe, high-quality products.

Quality Assurance Training

We provide ongoing professional development for all QA associates through offsite technical training, webinars, in-house group seminars and interactive web-based course work. The QA team has developed comprehensive training programs for distribution center associates who have direct product touch points with food safety impacts. For example, warehouse associates such as Receivers, Selectors, Loaders, Delivery Drivers and Will-Call associates receive training designed to address food safety risks for temperature control and cross contact while fulfilling their jobs. We also provide comprehensive training in safe food handling practices to Sales Associates and other personnel who handle samples.

Food Safety Standards

As the number of food illness outbreaks and recalls increases, and food safety legislation around the globe tightens, we aim to continually improve our internal food safety programs. All products distributed by Sysco are subject to our preventive controls program.

A professional staff with relevant product and food processing industry expertise executes our food safety programs. To minimize risks in food safety from supplier to the customer, we utilize multiple preventative controls throughout our process, including Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and formal pre-requisite food safety programs such as supplier approval programs, sanitation, foreign materials control, allergen control, good food handling practices, and recall procedures. We utilize standardized procedures for warehouse functions to mitigate food safety risks at Receiving, in Storage, during the Selection process and in Loading and Delivery to our customers. By implementing effective preventative controls at every stage of food production, processing and distribution, we can prevent or reduce the risk of many food safety hazards.

Commodities such as raw ground beef, ready-to-eat deli meats and poultry, refrigerated and ready-to-eat seafood and ready-to-eat produce must adhere to even more rigorous Sysco QA food safety requirements designed to mitigate pathogen risks.

Industry Standards for Food Safety

We believe that shared knowledge leads to continuous improvement, ultimately benefitting all stakeholders in the foodservice industry, including suppliers, customers and competitors. Our QA managers and directors play an active role in the development of industry standards and practices to improve food safety, quality, animal welfare and sustainability, including those standards and practices encompassed by the following frameworks.

Auditor Competency Standards

Since we import products, we are expected to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which allows the FDA to hold imported foods to the same safety standards as domestic foods.

Sysco QA team members served as subject-matter experts on auditing for food manufacturing facilities in 2012 when the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, developed an auditor competency evaluation tool to be utilized by the FDA during third-party audits to ensure the safety of products imported into the United States.

Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)

All suppliers of Sysco Brand fresh, ready-to-eat produce have been required since 1999 to comply with Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), a voluntary program administered by the FDA that aims to continually improve food quality, safety and traceability. In July 2007 we extended our GAP requirements to include all fresh, ready-to-eat produce distributed through our operating companies, regardless of brand or label. The Sysco GAP program monitors nearly 700 suppliers, conducting over 62,000 GAP audits each year.

Read more about our partnership with the Produce Marketing Association to provide GAP training workshops for potential and existing suppliers of local foods here.

Global Food Safety Initiative Food Safety Standards

Our QA and food safety representatives are involved in several working groups of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), a nonprofit organization focused on improving global food safety management systems by building industry acceptance of common food safety criteria and managing costs in the supply chain through improved efficiency in food safety audits. (As mentioned above, the GFSI offers a framework against which food safety standards can be benchmarked.) We participate in the GFSI Auditor Competence Working Group and the Storage and Distribution Working Group.

Foodservice GS1 Standards Initiative

We participate in the Foodservice GS1 Standards Initiative, which aims to enhance supply chain efficiencies, improve product information and establish a foundation for food safety and traceability. Sysco was one of 55 founding members of the initiative in 2009. In FY2014, we served on multiple working and task groups, including the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) Working Group and the Global Location Number (GLN) Working Groups, which help to develop best practice on standardizing location identity in foodservice supply chains.

Choosing Suppliers

All Sysco Brand suppliers must pass an initial facility audit administered by Sysco QA. Conducted both via teleconference and through an on-site visit, the audit assesses adequacy of food safety control, sanitation, good manufacturing practices, employee hygiene, foreign material control, quality management systems, recall and traceability and production capabilities. After approval, the supplier and Sysco QA establish monitoring and verification procedures to ensure that the food safety and quality systems are maintained and that the Sysco products are manufactured or packed according to the agreed specifications.

We have dedicated supplier approval systems for organizations that supply ground beef, veal and specialty meats. Non-branded ground beef and veal suppliers must be approved by Sysco QA before an operating company can purchase these high-risk items. All ground beef suppliers must adhere to strict food safety controls including use of pretested raw materials that are confirmed negative for pathogenic E. coli O157:H7.

Monitoring Suppliers

The QA team ensures ongoing high standards by continually monitoring compliance with our rigorous quality and safety guidelines. Our Independent Audit Program (IAP), established in 1999, requires all approved Sysco Brand suppliers and packing locations to undergo one audit by a Sysco-approved contract auditing firm each calendar year. Sysco QA reviews all external audits to ensure that a minimum score is achieved and that all corrective actions are adequate and implemented in a timely manner.

To supplement that work, all approved Sysco Brand suppliers are rated based on their food safety risk and monitored through on-site visits by QA associates according to their ranking; suppliers providing products that possess higher potential food safety risk are prioritized. During these visits, the QA team evaluates production and products, addresses any existing product-quality issues, assesses the execution of food safety programs and reviews preventive measures and corrective action plans.

In FY2014 Sysco QA completed plant audits, visits and plant or field inspections at more than 1,700 locations to monitor our suppliers' and our owned companies' food safety and quality programs.

Operating Company Food Safety Procedures

Food Handling and Transport

In FY2014 Sysco QA extended our enhanced, standardized food safety programs beyond our U.S. broadline operating and specialty companies to include broadline operations in Canada and the Bahamas and our quick-service division, SYGMA.

The improved food safety program design resulted from a collaborative effort across cross-functional teams of Corporate Quality Assurance and Distribution Services personnel and operating company representatives from traditional broadline and specialty companies. Deployment and ongoing oversight are managed by QA staff who focus on operating company food safety.

The food safety improvement project outcomes have enabled us to update and implement standardized, risk based, food safety programs across all Sysco companies, including our specialty companies. Further strengthening our existing industry-leading practices, this work also ensures compliance with any new rules of the Food Safety Modernization Act and provides for enterprise wide oversight and reporting of key food safety metrics.

Product Recalls

When a Sysco supplier finds a problem with either the safety or quality of its products, we work to help ensure that the products in question are removed from the distribution system. Our recall communication system is designed to notify all parties involved of the details of the recall or withdrawal, as well as to describe responsibilities and procedures.

To ensure accurate traceability in the event of a recall, all suppliers must be able to trace products back to raw material. In addition, Sysco Brand cartons and, if applicable, internal packages are identified with a production code.