Auditor competency: a key to food safety
Best practice and innovation are driving food safety across global supply chains, writes Cor Groenveld, chairman of the Foundation for Food Safety Certification and global head of Food Supply Chain Services for Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance (LRQA).
The globalisation of supply chains and the need for transparency and traceability have triggered changes in the way food safety is approached.
While innovation, collaboration and change are driving food safety across global supply chains, there is more to be done. Each year:
• About 1,8 million people die from contaminated food and water;
• There are an estimated two-billion cases of food-borne illnesses;
• An estimated one in four to six people in developed countries suffer from a food-borne disease;
• In the United States, food-borne illnesses cause 5 000 deaths and cost US$ 162 billion (about R1,8 trillion).
In 2000, leading global manufacturers and retailers united to form the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), primarily to drive the harmonisation of food safety standards and certification.
Since then, experts have been collaborating in numerous technical working groups to tackle food safety issues defined by GFSI stakeholders. Together with the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), the GFSI has driven the move towards a set of globally accepted management standards.
While robust independent assessment underpins an organisation’s commitment to food safety, there is also a need for the auditors to have a consistent level of experience and expertise. This is known as “calibration”. Fundamental to ensuring the integrity of the assessment process, calibration assures auditors that their assessment reports have been completed consistently and their operations conform to the relevant standard or scheme – irrespective of geographical location.
Mark Overland, director for Global Certification at Cargill, agrees: “We are rolling out FSSC 22000 to over 1 000 plants in 67 countries. Our customers expect to have the same level of food safety execution at every plant.”
Increasingly, organisations such as Cargill are taking a global, integrated approach to supply chain and food safety.
Another development is the increasing use by organisations of customised second-party audits. This allows an organisation to work with a certification body to develop a bespoke management system and audit approach, which includes the certification audits and incorporates industry best practice with company-specific systems and processes. In addition to the system becoming more robust over time, the audit process begins to drive internal efficiencies and identify areas for further training and improvement.
Some of the world’s leading organisations have turned to customised assurance programmes. Audits are undertaken by skilled and calibrated assessors, who cover all the requirements and processes relevant to the organisation, resulting in reporting that visualises the level of compliance and enables the organisation to improve.
Cathy Stannard, global head of Quality & Food Safety Management at Mars, Incorporated explains: “For Mars, a quality management programme – that is compatible with the requirements set out in the GFSI recognised schemes – offers us consistency and efficiency, which helps across the entire supply chain.”
Whatever the approach, the integrity of the audit ultimately depends on the expertise, experience, training, knowledge and insight of the auditing team.
Management standards and assessment are helping to ensure that issues can be quickly identified and corrected. Manufacturers and retailers, that previously may have considered improved efficiencies as the main indicator for success, are now putting management systems at the heart of their organisations.
In these times of ongoing food scares and economic uncertainty, this could prove to be a key differentiator and an ongoing source of competitive advantage.