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    How to choose a food safety auditor - Step 2, Bad Auditor


    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, as we were talking about in our previous post, we many times hear from growers and processors about their frustrations with some auditors. So, what can a grower or processor do if a “bad” auditor shows up to do an audit?
    Julia, first let’s put some perspective on this.  As in every occupation, there are people that are good at what they do and there are those that are not so good.  In the years I have been in the produce industry, I have been fortunate to work with a number of third party and government auditors who are professional, well trained and dedicated to doing a good job.  Indeed, I would say the overwhelming majority of the auditors I encountered really worked hard to do a good job. But, I have also seen the other side of the spectrum; the un-prepared, inexperienced, authoritarian types that can make an audit difficult and really bring very little value. 

    So what should a person do if a poorly prepared auditor arrives to audit their operation?

    There’s a real fine line here regarding what you can do.  But, there are a few things an operator needs to keep in mind:

    First, understand that in reality an auditor needs to be a “little removed” or detached.  They are not there to be your friend.  They are there to be an impartial observer and evaluator of your food safety program.  They can only base their evaluation on what they see and on the documentation and data you present to verify you’re following your program every day. They can also assess your operational food safety performance by asking questions and using those answers to support their observations and your documentation.  You want an auditor that has this professional detachment because it will result in a more fair and unbiased assessment of your food safety status.

    Second, previously we discussed the importance of the operator meeting with the third party prior to conducting an audit — whether you are the one selecting the auditing company or whether your customer is mandating a specific one.  If an operator can meet with the third party before hand to gain a better understanding of the auditor’s capabilities and expertise, I think you can reduce some of the frustrations of having a bad auditor.  The third party auditor will also come away from this discussion with a better understanding of your expectations and perhaps use this knowledge to assign an auditor that is ideally suited for your type of operation.

    Third, I often tell growers and processors not to be a victim of their auditor.  Be an active participant in your audit.  Be professional and prepared.  Make sure you have a responsible party accompany the auditor, have your food safety documents available for review, and be able to answer questions.  Invest the time in your audit and make your own observations.  If you think the auditor gets off track, is argumentative, over-steps their bounds, or fails to understand an aspect of your program, politely and professionally ask for a clarification. If you cannot reach resolution, make sure the auditor understands you disagree and that you request further discussions on the issue with the auditor and their supervisor.  Sometimes, an auditor can even call a supervisor on the spot to get input and address your concerns immediately.    

    Last, keep in mind that you are paying for this service.  If you are selecting a third party auditor to work with and you get an unqualified auditor, then you can terminate your relationship and interview other third party companies for future use.  If the audit company is mandated by a customer, I think you need to let your customer know of your dissatisfaction.  Nobody, however, is impressed with an emotional rant.  Document your issues with the auditor, provide your reasoning and any data that you have that supports your practices and why they are acceptable risk mitigation methods. Be professional.

    Thank you, Bob, for providing some clarification and suggestions for a very tricky situation. Listeners tune in next time when Bob will discuss the third important element in choosing a third party auditing partner, the corrective actions process.  See you then!

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