• About Dr. Bob Whitaker
  • About this blog
  • @@post_notification_header
  • Archive for June 2010

    How to choose a food safety auditor - Critical Characteristic 1, Approach

    Tuesday, June 8th, 2010


    Julia Stewart:
    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart, and I’m here today with PMA’s Chief Science & Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker, and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob”. Bob, we’ve begun to look into the critical characteristics to consider when choosing a food safety auditor. Can you explain the first characteristic more for us now, and that’s the auditor’s approach?

    Bob:
    Sure , Julia. As I mentioned previously, selecting the proper auditor is crucial to getting a competent and effectively performed food safety audit.  The first key characteristic I identified in my last post, is to understand the approach the auditor will take. Today, we see a variety of approaches.  Some companies select a third party auditor to do their audits and supply this information to their customers as needed.  In other cases, you don’t have much choice in selecting the auditor since the customer mandates that you use a specific third party company.  However, in either case, it is important for you to take the responsibility of sitting down with the audit company and learn about their approach.

    It’s important to be sure they do both pieces of a systems audit — the inspection, and the evaluation of verification documentation. Be sure your food safety auditor isn’t doing just a snapshot inspection of your operation. You want an audit that looks at the entire food safety system you have in place. Good  auditors will look at your risk assessment and written food safety plan, physically inspect  your operational processes, talk to your employees to see if they understand their roles, look at your  equipment, and evaluate environmental risk factors and how you manage them.  Then they will look at your verification records and see if they indicate you are following your food safety program every day. 

    The grower or processor being audited should have expectations of the auditor and how they will conduct the audit. You are paying for it so you should get some value.  You need to establish up front that you expect the auditor to spend time on the inspection phase and completely look over your operation.  You also need to clearly establish that you don’t want the audit to be a snap shot.  In other words, you expect that the auditor will follow up on the inspection with a complete review of your food safety records to ensure that they verify adherence over time.  The aspect of time indicates that the audit isn’t just measuring what you’re doing at the time of the inspection, but that your records indicate you follow your program every minute of every day that you operate. 

    Look, if you understand that the safety of your products is your responsibility, then you want an audit that helps you to measure the effectiveness of your food safety program.   A good audit should be scientifically sound and systems-oriented.  If you score a 95% on a haphazardly executed audit, what good does that do you? 

    Julia
    Well, Bob, you’ve certainly opened a new thought process on the interaction between a produce supplier and a third party auditor.  Thank you.  We look forward to next time when we’ll continue discussing these critical characteristics to consider when selecting a third party auditor.

    Until then, thanks to our listeners for joining us!

    How to choose a food safety auditor – The Four Critical Characteristics

    Tuesday, June 1st, 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. In your previous post, you set the stage for looking at a food safety audit as a valuable tool if used correctly. So, what characteristics are important to consider in selecting a third party to perform audits or working with auditors identified by customers? 

    Bob
    Whether you are choosing an auditing firm or your customer has specified one for you to use, it is important to “interview” your auditor prior to the actual date of the audit. Find out what their expectations are but more importantly communicate your expectations of them. I suggest you look for four different critical attributes in your audit company choice, and I’ll go into each of these in more detail in future posts.

    First, understand the approach your auditor will take and be sure your auditor isn’t just doing a snapshot inspection of your operation. What do I mean by that?  Well, you want an audit that looks at the entire food safety system in place.  There are essentially two components to an effective audit, and you want an auditor who is strong in both areas – one, the inspection and, two, the evaluation of verification documentation. Good auditors look at your risk assessment and written food safety plan, and physically inspect your operational processes. But, they will also look at your verification records and see if they indicate you’re following your food safety program every day. Looking back over time at your records allows the auditor to verify you are doing what you say, and it gets away from the weak “snapshot” approach. 

    The second thing to look at is the qualifications of the auditors. What experience do they have?  Are they properly trained for the responsibilities?  Does the company they work for require yearly update training?  It’s important for you as a customer of the audit service to understand their qualifications. You wouldn’t bring in a guy off the street with no training to fix your tractor or packing machine; you’d want to know they’re qualified to work on those pieces of equipment. So, why wouldn’t you want to check out the qualifications of your auditors on something as critical as food safety a food safety audit?   
     
    The third characteristic is the process they have in place for corrective actions. Nobody is ever perfect.  In fact, if you score 100% on an audit, I’d be willing to bet your auditor did not do a very good job; there is always room for improvement, even if it’s minor. This is also important because if your audit is transmitted to a buyer, that buyer must not only see what you do well but also see your commitment to addressing any deficiencies uncovered in the audit. A good corrective actions process starts with an auditor exit interview the day the audit is conducted, and is not complete until you address each area where deficiencies were identified with written corrective actions. 

    The last, critical characteristic of a good audit partner is to determine how they are going to handle your audit data. I don’t just mean how they are going to send your scores to your buyers, but what system do they have in place so you can archive, sort, and use the data for training? Remember, if you’re paying for the services of your audit, you can gain more value by being able to use your results in an effective manner for spotting trends and identifying training needs.  

    Each of these four steps is critical to consider as you develop a working relationship with your third party auditor. If understood up front, these will result in a more effective audit and contribute positively to improving your food safety performance. 

    Julia:
    Those are all noteworthy points Bob. We’ll cover the details of each of those in up-coming posts. If you want to communicate directly with Dr. Bob, please email him at askdrbob@pma.com.  We look forward to getting you questions and comments. Thank you, listeners for joining us. 

    Good Bye.

     
  • carking