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.


’Good business to put the safest products on the market;’ organic association adopts language of big ag

Killing customers is bad for business.

Especially the valued repeat customer.

It’s also bad for business to make customers barf.

But, companies do it all the time, so there is a need for regulation, a legal system, and public oversight to at least embarrass so-called leaders into providing safe food.

It’s a little weird when an organic type, under questioning about safety, resorts to a big ag line (for those foodies who like to distinguish based on size and conspiracy theories).

Christine Bushway of the Organic Trade Association told the Associated Press one of the best checks on food safety is the devastating effect a recall or foodborne illness outbreak can have on a company’s bottom line.

“It’s just good business to make sure you are putting the safest products on the market,” she says.

The comments were in a story about the perceived safety of organic foods in light of repeated recalls and outbreaks –like the salmonella that sickened six in Minn. and was linked to organic eggs.

While sales for food produced on smaller operations have exploded, partially fueled by a consumer backlash to food produced by larger companies, a new set of food safety challenges has emerged. And small farm operations have been exempted from food safety laws as conservatives, farmers and food-lovers have worried about too much government intervention and regulators have struggled with tight budgets.

Bushway of the Organic Trade Association did get it right when she said food safety comes down to proper operation of a farm or food company, not its scale.

“How is the farm managed? How much effort is put into food safety? If you don’t have really good management, it doesn’t matter.”

But she misses out on an opportunity to once again stress organic is a production system with almost nothing to do with microbial food safety — the stuff that makes people barf.