Why would I need a third-party audit and what’s in it for my company?

By evaluating a food processing facility, a third-party audit can:

  • Review plans and procedures, and verify that all regulatory requirements are being met.
  • Look at corporate goals and evaluate them against your day-to-day operations to verify compliance.
  • Compare the condition of a facility to international standards benchmarked by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), a program launched in 2000 that is now accepted by several major retailers around the world.

Basically, a third-party audit will determine whether what you’re actually doing is what you say you’re doing and if your facility meets regulatory requirements and internationally accepted standards.

Typically audits for meat processing facilities were done by internal company auditors or second party auditors on behalf of customers. With increased food recalls and tighter regulations from the FDA and USDA, third-party audits are playing a larger role in the meat and poultry industries. As retailer demand for industry standardization increases, third-party auditing is becoming more important as a way to demonstrate compliance. Now retailers and even consumers are demanding third-party certification on products.

Q&A with Jim Bail, Director of Food Safety and Quality at NSF International

Q: How can a third-party audit benefit my company?

Bail: One of the primary benefits of third-party audits is that they provide a degree of separation, thus providing an external, independent assessment of a company’s operation. Third-party audits can greatly benefit a business by adding assurance that proper documentation is in place to verify that a business meets all internal requirements, relevant regulations, as well as the requirements of internationally accepted standards. This helps a company deliver on its commitment to food safety, quality and responsibility. When a retailer or consumer sees that you’ve volunteered to attain certification from a third-party, they will be assured that your facility meets industry accepted standards and that your company takes food safety and quality very seriously.

Q: How can I prepare for a third-party audit?

Bail: The best thing for any company preparing for an audit is to be familiar with the associated industry standards. Two examples of global standards that are associated with meat-processing plants are SQF (Safe Quality Food) and BRC (British Retail Consortium), both of which are GFSI benchmarked standards. Another way to prepare your meat-processing plant is to make sure you provide objective evidence that your programs are effective. This comes in the form of documents and process monitoring records that detail things like physical conditions, policies and procedures, CCP records and others.

Q: What are some of the things you look for during an audit?

Bail: There are many things we look for during an audit. For example, we pay close attention to cleaning and sanitization. We not only want to know how you keep your products and equipment clean, but we also want to know what you do specifically to verify it. So we might look to see if you have pathogen-control programs or microbiological testing in your facility. In a third-party audit, we also check how timely your corrective actions are and we will interview personnel to get a better idea of your training programs and management.

These are several key elements we look for during an audit:

  • Management commitment (Policies, Procedures, Involvement)
  • Effectiveness of training and orientation (Interviews with personnel)
  • Effective process control (Records review)
  • Regulatory compliance (Records review)
  • Physical conditions (Inspection)

* — The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is coordinated by CIES - The Food Business Forum, launched May 2000.