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    How to choose a food safety auditor – Question on Step 1

     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, in our last post you talked about the first characteristic of choosing an auditor – understanding their approach. Well, we have a follow-up question to that. Many times the producer doesn’t get to select the third party auditor; so what happens if your customer mandates a particular audit company who isn’t willing to spend the time and use a more holistic approach like you described?

    That’s a good question.  I know suppliers feel they need to fulfill the requirements of the buyers.  It’s the way our industry operates, but I would suggest that food safety is an over-arching issue; in other words, the safety of your product is YOUR responsibility and it’s in the best interests of your customer that the audit you both rely on as a tool to measure your food safety performance be conducted properly.

    So, work with the third party first.  Talk to them.  Understand their expectations and clearly communicate yours to them. But, if you feel that you and the third party auditor are not on the same page, not working toward the same goals, call your customer that mandated this particular auditor and explain the issues. Talk to them about your desire to have a successful audit program that serves both of your interests, and that there seems to be a problem with the audit company. Ask for their assistance in talking to the auditor and request a conference call between the three of you to ensure you are all working toward the same objective.  I think most customers would welcome this type of proactive partnership toward ensuring the products you supply and they sell are as safe as they can be.

    I would think the customer would appreciate it. So does this same approach of engaging the third party auditor and the customer extend to the audit itself?

    You bet.  I’ll get into this in more detail when we speak about corrective actions, but the grower or processor being audited needs to be an active participant in the actual audit.  Make sure you have a responsible person accompany the auditor. 

    Let me stop there.  Who is a responsible person?  Someone that knows the operation well and can answer any food safety question the auditor might have. And, this person must have access to the records required for verification, and be able to produce them for viewing by the auditor.

    Be professional and polite — the same you expect from your auditor. Take notes on what you see during the inspection and document review so you can look at them later during the exit interview with the auditor and with your own internal food safety group. An open discussion of the audit with the auditor and your recommendations for corrective actions is an important piece of any auditing process, and permits you to have input into the process. It promotes a dialogue that will improve both your operations performance and the ability of the auditor to audit it effectively.

    Well Bob once again you have us thinking differently about what the interaction should be between a produce supplier, a third party auditor, and even the customer.  Thank you.  We look forward to next time when we will discuss your second critical characteristic to consider when selecting a third party auditor. 

    Remember listeners, you can email Dr. Bob at AskDrBob@pma.com
    Thanks for joining us!

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