Quality and Food Safety – Policies and Practices at Ragus
Ragus pure sugar manufacturing was founded by Charles Eastick in 1928. Since then the family run company has been passed from generation to generation to become the last independent sugar manufacturer in the UK – a great achievement. So, the Ragus company and its owners certainly know sugar product ingredients.
As does someone else… Ragus’ Quality & Technical Manager, Richard Livermore, who has been an employee with the company for over 17 years; he is someone who has become a part of the family and the furniture! Richard is on the road to retirement at the end of 2018, so it’s high time we introduced you to him before he leaves Ragus for a life of leisure.
What are your main responsibilities as a Quality & Technical Manager?
“I make sure that the factory runs smoothly and is compliant to BRC (The British Retail Consortium) and the ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation). In the food industry you have to make sure that you follow all regulations and guidelines as we are supplying products for human consumption. These regulations cover our selection of ethically sourced raw materials to the controlled transformation into Ragus high quality functional ingredients.
Security at our production facility is also very important with the careful checking of safety of everyone visiting the site.”
For those who don’t know, what exactly is quality control within Ragus?
“Quality control means controlling the raw material that comes into our production facility, the processes it goes through whilst in the factory, to the finished products that leave the facility for distribution; insuring all parameters are set and adhered to. Checks are made on the raw materials coming in, we have to look at the flowability of the sugar and the condition of the packaging. If we receive bulk products in shipping containers we have to investigate and run tests on the actual containers, especially if they come from places like South Africa or Mauritius where pests could be a threat.”
Do you ever have to reject containers?
“Occasionally yes, we do, if a container arrives damaged, then it could be open to contamination, so we wouldn’t accept it. Sometimes we could open up a container and there could be cockroaches inside which would then be taken off-site and fumigated. We cannot allow any raw materials into our plant which haven’t been subjected to our rigorous checks.”
You’ve been with Ragus for nearly 2 decades, how has the company evolved over time?
“I’ve worked in the sugar industry for over 40 years, the latter half of which has been with Ragus. The main changes I’ve seen is the implementation of our new factory. We moved into our new state-of-the-art production facility in 2013 and it’s been the greatest development for us as a company. Our production output has grown dramatically.
The original site was restrictive as the facilities were limited and as business grew over the years we too outgrew the grounds; capacity and production were difficult to manage on such a small site.”
So, by the sounds of it the new factory makes your job and life easier to manage?
“Yes, totally. I was able to help with the technical aspects of the new facility. Now, the factory just flows naturally; from raw material, to processing, to packaging, to goods out. The previous site was a bit of a squeeze because as the company began to grow, more equipment was needed, but we didn’t have the space for it, so it was placed anywhere that could house it, which often wasn’t in convenient places!”
How are products kept and stored in the factory?
“We have a goods in warehouse which is controlled by a team of people. Everything is kept in a racking system which is easy to store and visually satisfying. We continuously run stock checks, routinely clean the warehouse, do routine inhouse audits and adhere to all health and safety standards applicable to the food manufacturing industry. All our products have a shelf life on them too, but we have such a large turnover of products nothing is kept in our warehouse for too long.”
As Ragus has expanded in terms of facilities, how has this impacted on product development?
“Moving to our new facility has enabled us to increase our production and output. At the old factory the big vessels we used to make our products could only hold 10 tonnes, but now we are able to hold 27 tonnes of one product in our vats at a time! This means that before we could be creating two batches of products if we had a large order, but now we can just create one.”
What procedures does Ragus have in place in terms of ‘food safety’?
“We follow the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) which is a way of managing food safety hazards. We follow a ‘decision tree’ structure which is a flow chart of the processes of the many products we produce. We have three main features that we always adhere to: 1) Screening (sieving), 2) Metal Detection and 3) Filtration – any end products that do not pass out 3-point test are rejected.”
Will you miss working in the sugar industry?
“I’ve worked in the sugar industry since I was 21 and I’m now retiring at the end of this year. My father also worked in the sugar industry for 36 years, starting out as a pipe fitter and then moving over to become a chemist. I started out at a different sugar company, working in the laboratory with my father as a shift over chemist. I then progressed through the years working in various roles and finally settling on a QA role.”
What has been the most memorable times you’ve had at Ragus?
“The whole 17 years have been very interesting, and I have worked with, and met lots of great sugar industry people. I’m a very hands-on person, so I like getting involved in all aspects of the business. I have travelled to Malawi, Cuba, Paraguay, Barbados, Mauritius, Guadeloupe, Brazil, Europe where I have carried out audits; the audit looks at the whole process, from the field to the factory process and all Quality issues that relates to the sugar we buy.”
Lastly, what are the high and lows of travelling to all the sugar mills and facilities around the world?
“The highs have to be the people you meet along the way. There is such a diverse range of people with various skills and experiences, but they are all so accommodating and happy to meet, speak and entertain visitors. Visiting and auditing the refineries and mills is a pleasant experience and it’s good to see all the processes working and where the raw materials come from. I will certainly miss the travelling, especially to Malawi which was incredible, and the experiences that I have been lucky enough to encounter.
The lows about travelling… must be the mosquitoes, the snakes, the scorpions, the lizards… oh and the ‘BEWARE OF THE CROCODILES’ sign that was outside my accommodation in Malawi!”