Food safety audits: worthwhile, if done correctly

Melvin N. Kramer, president, EHA Consulting Group, Inc., writes that over the past several years, and clearly over the past several weeks, there has been increased interest, criticism, and a general sense of a conundrum in reference to the reliability, reproducibility, validity, and general worthiness of a third-party audit.

Many people with varying interests have weighed in with a lot of facts, few figures, and a fair amount of speculation. We believe, and have even published, that the key to an appropriate assessment from a third-party audit starts with the qualification and experience of the auditor. As long as there are firms that are recruiting and sending out on third-party audits individuals with minimum credentials, such as the one we found on one company’s website, “high school diploma, or equivalent, plus ten (10) years food processing experience (food plant experience in a responsible food safety position),” then these audits are doomed to be a potentially harmful and indeed can be worthless.

However, if the third-party auditor is properly trained, schooled, and credentialed in food safety and microbiology (a bachelor’s degree, with a minimum of thirty credits in the biological/environmental sciences), then third-party audits can be an extraordinary good tool to be used by industry in assessing, to assure that the health and well-being of the consumer is not going to be compromised.

When conflicts of interest arise, anywhere, there is always cause for concern. Some of these conflicts of interest are present in the auditing firm, when companies sell laboratory services, pest control services, chemicals, or other services, and the third-party audit becomes a lost leader, just like a can of peas in a supermarket, selling for far under the fair market value.

In 2009, we posted a blog on our website, which is as true today as it was then, and we clearly welcome others to revisit it and continue this important dialog.

A good working definition of public health is preventative medicine in action.