A food safety audit does not ensure safe food

I’m not a fan of third-party food safety audits. Sure, there’s lots of good people out there, especially the ones who can coach and assist, but straight audits of food producing facilities – beginning on the farm and through to the fork – can be fraught with inadequacies.

And too often, it’s about the paycheck, not the food safety (and that comes from years of working with farmers and others and watching various auditors show up and not knowing too much).

Crain’s Detroit Business
has a story about the expanding empire of NSF International’s testing and certification services, which expects sales to increase 29 percent, to $155 million this year.

NSF CEO Kevan Lawlor says that as companies develop more global supply chains, there’s an increased risk of health and safety issues.

Which could also be an argument for developing an internal capacity to assess suppliers and internal operations.

Chapman has written that,

“Farmers and processors need to demonstrate to consumers they are aware of microbial risks and are taking serious steps to reduce that risk, day-in, day-out, even in the absence of an outbreak. Regulatory or even third party-audits are largely meaningless. Audits are snapshots, and auditors look for easily viewed visual mistakes and do little to look at what a farmer or staff member does. Just like restaurant inspections audits are not a good indicator of likelihood of an outbreak. Farmers need food safety resources 24/7 to help guide their production practices, and they need those best practices continually reinforced; an annual audit is hopelessly insufficient, especially since outbreaks keep happening from processors that are audited. Inspection scores for farms, like those for restaurants are subject to inspector inconsistencies and are not predictive of the likelihood of an outbreak (Cruz et al., 2001; Jones et al., 2004).”

Or as I’ve written and stressed for years,

“certified/verified/HACCPified/inspected/audited don’t means that much unless there is a culture of food safety present farm-to-fork, 24/7.”

How many NSF-audited farms or facilities have subsequently been involved in outbreaks of foodborne illness? How many farms or facilities audited by other third-party operators have been involved in outbreaks of foodborne illness?