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    How to choose a food safety auditor - Introduction

    Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

    Julia Stewart:
    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart, and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob.” I’m here with PMA’s Chief Science & Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker. This is the first post in a multi-part series on choosing a food safety auditor.

    In previous posts, Bob, you’ve talked about the role of audits in the food safety equation. Can you give us some more detail on how to go about making the most effective auditor choice?
    Julia, before I get into the actual steps of choosing an auditor, I’d like to cover a bit of background to help us set the stage.

    In the last decade, we’ve expended a great deal of energy talking about food safety audits in the produce industry.  Every grower, harvester, distributor, or processor I meet has an “auditor story” about how a government or third party auditor showed up at their facility or farm, and proceeded to ask inappropriate questions, or make recommendations inconsistent with commonly accepted food safety practices.  I certainly sympathize when I hear these; it wasn’t that long ago when I was working at a grower/shipper and had to experience the same frustration. 

    But I look at food safety audits a little differently than many. I know there is always pressure to “pass” an audit so you can supply a specific customer, but an audit is really about having an extra set of eyes and ears to verify that you’re following your written food safety programs. It’s a chance for you to measure your entire program, and an opportunity to learn how to improve your performance going forward.

    An important point is that undergoing an audit is not necessarily just about getting a great score. Can anyone really say that an operation scoring 95% is safer than one scoring 90%? It’s not the score that matters, but what you missed and then what you do to correct the deficiency. For instance, an operation that loses 10 points on an audit because a worker was observed not washing his hands after using a restroom is likely a riskier operation from a food safety perspective than one that loses 10 points because their food safety logs are dated improperly. Both deficiencies are clearly important, but their immediate impact on the safety of food can be vastly different. 

    Bob, so you’re saying producers should view a food safety audit as one tool they can use to measure the effectiveness of their programs – but I have also heard you call food safety audits an “imperfect tool”. 

    Absolutely.  Audits are basically a snapshot in time of your program because they look at what you’re doing the day and the very instant that the auditor is observing your operations and reviewing your documents.  And let’s face it, most operators know what questions the auditor is going to ask and what documents to have available. It’s like taking a test when you’ve already been given the answers.

    I’ve seen operations that proudly display their “Superior” audit certificate yet could stand some improvement in their day-to-day operations. And, how many times do we read about a food manufacturer involved with a foodborne illness outbreak who had been audited a month earlier and received an excellent score. It’s the difference between dressing-up for an audit versus living your food safety program every day.  An audit should be conducted so it fully evaluates your food safety systems and your risk-based food safety program. The value is in either knowing you are performing up to your program, or that there are some areas where you need improvement — then you need to implement those improvements.

    Living your food safety program every day, I like that a lot.

    Thanks Bob. You’ve definitely presented a different way of looking at food safety audits and linked this perspective as being consistent with taking responsibility for the safety of our products. We look forward to your continuing posts on this subject. Thank you listeners for joining us!

    Meet Ed Treacy, VP Supply Chain Efficiencies

    Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

    Julia Stewart:
    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart, and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob” with PMA’s Chief Science & Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker. Bob, we’re excited today to introduce a special guest to our listeners as we welcome PMA’s new vice president of supply chain efficiencies, Edmund (“Ed”) Treacy.

    We’re pleased to have Ed join our team, he brings tremendous expertise in logistics and supply chain management – our members now have another very talented resource with great industry experience. And the new position that he is filling continues a deliberate course PMA set to strengthen our staff with top-level subject matter experts who understand our industry, and can design and deliver the real-world business solutions our members need.

    Ed comes to us from New Breed Logistics in High Point, N.C., where he served as senior vice president of operations. Ed designed and implemented distribution centers for various manufacturers to service major U.S. retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens and Best Buy. 

    Here at PMA, he will serve as our staff expert in developing supply chain practices to lead the produce and floral industries forward in these areas.

    Ed, welcome to Ask Dr. Bob for the first of what I expect to be many appearances.  First, let’s clear one thing up … Is it true we had to import you?

    That’s right, Bob. I originally hail from Canada and am now both a U.S. and Canadian citizen, and I’ve been living in the states for four and a half years. I’ve spent much of my career developing and improving distribution capabilities for four major Canadian retail chains, including Sobeys and Loblaws. In fact at Sobey’s, I worked alongside former PMA director Wayne McKnight as senior vice president of logistics and engineering. I got my bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Toronto, and I also completed the Executive Development Program at York University in Toronto.

    You were also very involved as an industry volunteer in Canada’s traceability initiatives and worked closely with PMA ally Canadian Produce Marketing Association. You are a past chairman of the Canadian Pallet Council, you were a founding board member of the Canadian RFID Center, and you were vice chair of the Canadian Professional Logistics Institute. You know your business, and you’re known to our industry.

    Bob, what exactly will Ed be doing in this new position?

    His duties will incorporate much of the work previously managed by Gary Fleming, PMA’s former vice president, industry technology & standards. Part of Ed’s work will be to monitor and forecast trends related to supply chain efficiencies, and design and deliver related products, services and educational events for PMA members. He also will serve as staff lead and technical resource to the industry-wide Produce Traceability Initiative, and lead all of PMA’s data synchronization and alignment initiatives.

    I’m really glad to be working closely again with the produce supply chain. The food business gets in your blood, and I’ve missed it during the last few years I have been away from it. I’m also thrilled to be working with PMA. It’s such a well-respected organization, and really provides the base needed to help our industry address supply chain challenges and take advantage of all the opportunities that are available.

    Welcome, Ed, we’re glad to have you on the team, and we’re all looking forward to working with you to
    help support and grow our members’ businesses. We know we’ll be hearing more from you in the future.

    Bob and Ed, thanks for being here today. And thank you, listeners, for joining us!