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    How to choose a food safety auditor – Critical Characteristic 2, Auditor Qualifications

    Julia Stewart:
    Welcome back to our listeners to another installment in our series on how to select a food safety auditor. This is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart and during our previous sessions, Dr. Bob Whitaker, PMA’s Chief Science & Technology Officer has discussed the first characteristic of a good third party auditing partner: the auditor’s approach. Today, we are focusing on the second critical characteristic of a good auditor and that is their qualifications. Bob, what training and experience should a grower or processor look for in an auditor?

     In the best case, a third party auditor, or for that fact a government auditor, should be knowledgeable about your product line and production practices, experienced in auditing your type of operation, and technically knowledgeable regarding food safety and its foundation technologies.  You want your auditor to be professional, respectful and efficient. 

    If you are trying to select a third party or you are meeting with a third party company that has been mandated by a customer, it is important for you to ask about the auditors experience and the ongoing training programs a third party auditing company requires for their auditors.  We all know that our businesses have changed considerably in the last several years.  This is doubly true in food safety, so it is important that our auditors have current training.  If you were selecting a financial accounting firm to perform your yearly audit, you would want to know if their auditors have the proper education and are undergoing yearly IRS training to be sure they are competent and will do the best job for you and your investors.  Well, it’s the same when you are selecting a third party food safety auditing firm.  You are relying on them to give you a professional and informed assessment of your food safety program and it’s not just important to know their qualifications, it is your responsibility.

    Bob, I have seen this topic discussed in the context of “accreditation” and you’ve written comments to FDA on accreditation of third party auditors.  How does accreditation fit into looking at qualifications and as being a potential solution to inconsistent audit practices?

    You know, it might be part of the answer.  I am seeing a trend toward the use of accredited third parties for food safety auditing on a global basis.  This is certainly a pillar of the Global Food Safety Initiative or GFSI and the GlobalGAP benchmarking programs.  We also saw guidance issued by FDA last year on the operation of third party audits.  Auditor qualifications are just one aspect of third party accreditation.  At the heart of the issue on the proliferation of food safety audits has been the lack of confidence by buying groups that food safety auditors perform competently and consistently. 

    How many times have we heard that the content of the audits is almost exactly the same, it’s how the audits are performed that is variable?  So, if accreditation means that all third parties and perhaps even government auditors have to meet specific criteria and receive training on a regular basis, and that the auditors are “audited” to be sure they perform up to expectations, then it will be a valuable component of a comprehensive food safety program.  Any tool that can bring consistency, and therefore confidence, for both buyers and suppliers, is a good thing.

    Auditing the auditors that makes sense.

    Thanks Bob.  We frequently hear about frustrations with some auditors and, in fact, you mentioned in an earlier post that “everybody has a bad auditor story”.  So, on our next post I’d love to hear your suggestions on how a grower or processor can deal with a ‘bad auditor’. We’ll look forward to that and to having our listeners back with us.

    Thank you, and goodbye!

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