When it comes to third party audit food safety certifications, there is an abundance of options that meet the customer and regulatory requirements. The third-party audit requirements originated from
- The need to have trusted food suppliers
- To prevent food companies to have numerous client visits to verify the on-site food safety program
There are a few options when it comes to third-party food safety certification:
- Basic food safety or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) based certification
- Supplier’s program assessment (based on customer requirements)
- Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) accredited certification such as SQF, BRC, FSSC 22000 etc
It is important to note that there are a few factors that can influence how you would choose the type of third party certification for your company:
- Customer expectation
- Status of the food safety program
- Ability to comply with the certification expectation
- Meeting local regulatory requirements
Larger food retailers may have minimum requirements on their food supplier’s food safety programs. In order to be listed and continue to be listed on the approved supplier list, food companies may need to meet certain customer expectations including third-party certification and audit addendum. For example, to meet Costco expectation, a food manufacturer would have to go through a minimum food safety audit and a COSTCO addendum.
Ability to Comply with the Chosen Food Safety program
Despite most of the food safety scheme meet GFSI’s requirements, not all food safety programs are created equally. It is important to understand the requirements of the chosen food safety audit scheme when selecting a certification scheme.
Meeting regulatory requirements
Regulatory requirements are important considerations for food import and export activities. If you are exporting or manufacturing food products for the consumer in the United States, it is important to note that the food safety scheme takes into consideration the requirements of Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and Foreign Supplier’s Verification Program (FSVP)
The first stage for an audit is called a desk audit. A desk audit is a document review session. It is typically an unscored audit, meant to identify the food safety program deficiency and to provide an opportunity for the program improvements.
In a desk audit, the following are typically reviewed:
- Standard Operating Procedures, Work Instruction, Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures, HACCP plan, etc
- Food Safety relevant policy
- Forms and Template
- Record (if available) -typically, require a minimum of 3 months record
- Other supportive documents
It does not encompass observations and interviews with employees.
To prepare for the desk audit, you’ll need to
- Obtain a copy of the certification scheme requirements
- Develop, document and implement the scheme requirements. This includes developing programs and procedures, monitoring, verification and validation activities and record keeping.
- The documented program and procedures must match the implemented process.
- Important process control and critical control point shall be backed up with validated data, either through scientific reference or in-house study.
All non-conformances raised during the desk audit shall be closed prior to the initial audit.
Upon correction for the non-conformances during a desk audit, the next stage (initial food safety audit) can be arranged.
The initial food safety audit focus on the evidence of the effectiveness of the food safety program including:
- Food safety hazard risk assessment and implementation of process control
- Employee training program
- Implementation of corrective action and preventative actions, when a deviation occurs
- Record keeping practices
During this stage, it is mainly focusing on effectiveness and implementation status of the documented procedures. These may include observations, employee interviews and record review.
It is important to note all deviations noted during this audit stage are considered as audit deviations and must be corrected prior to the issuance of the food safety certificate
- Know the food safety program requirements -You do not need to remember the entire program, just where to find the documented procedures and relevant documents.
- Keep a register of food safety programs, forms etc. -this would help you refer to relevant program documentation.
- Sometimes, we just don’t have all the information. It is ok to say “I will get back to you with the right information”.
- You can actually get help from your food safety team. Food audit doesn’t need to be lonely -you can get help from the relevant personnel if you need help with their roles and responsibilities.
- Ensure the production plant (interior and exterior) meet food safety requirements are met for cleanliness, conditions and pest control.