When it comes to food, consumers have high expectations. In fact, it rarely crosses the consumer's mind that their food might be unsafe. The general population has a limited understanding, if any at all, of the extensive quality and safety control programs necessary to keep them safe and healthy.
No matter where you fall in the food supply chain, you've likely employed internal quality control processes to make sure your customers' high expectations are met. In some cases, these internal mechanisms are not enough, and this is one reason third party auditing has become common practice for further quality assurance.
Third party audits can help you identify any issues before they become a problem. They're also helpful in developing your internal processes and essentially have the power to benefit your business in other ways.
What auditors assess
An audit will assess your facility's process, equipment and personnel execution. It will determine both your administrative intention and its practical application, allowing you to see the distinction between creating an internal process and actually employing that process, company-wide, in your day-to-day operations.
Auditors use sets of predetermined criteria - most often guidelines developed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - for their baseline facility assessments. Among the most commonly-used sets of criteria are Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) and, in the realm of produce, Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). Through an NSF Cook & Thurber audit, your facility is measured against the published expectations manual of best practices. NSF Cook & Thurber is an NSF International Company that provides comprehensive food safety auditing services to the food, beverage, animal feed, and packaging industries.
How audits benefit your business
The third party audit gives your facility an added assurance as well as a reputation for commitment to quality. Opting for an audit because you want to, not because you have to, means you exemplify best practice and you take the sanitation and safety of your facility and employees very seriously. Favorable third party audit reports can also serve as effective marketing, enhancing your facility's reputation of quality and responsibility.
Additionally, many auditors offer experience and insight that can help you build and monitor new internal processes. More than an objective assessment of your facility, some auditors can suggest future action items to look for. This interactive audit process allows you to turn your auditors' insights into long-term facility improvements.
What to look for when choosing an auditor
When choosing a third party auditor, you should look for a firm that fits your business. Some auditing companies have broad expertise; they can assess everything from microbes in crop soil to employee sanitation practices. These companies are typically larger and farther-reaching in terms of geography. Other auditors operate within just one niche or market segment, offering highly specialized expertise at the farm and field or processing level.
To achieve long-term benefits from your audit, look for an auditor that uses the consultative audit method. This method of auditing provides more than just a ranking based on pre-determined criteria. Your auditors will also help you identify areas of improvement and assist in implementing appropriate measures. This equips you with far more than an understanding of your current place on the safety and sanitation continuum; it gives you a means for continuous success.
As part of your selection process, be sure to ask about levels of experience. A seasoned auditor will use a combination of published criteria, industry benchmarks and personal expertise to make quality, time-tested recommendations. Add to that a higher level of familiarity with GMP, HACCP and other best practices, and it's easy to see that experience will make the difference in the quality and value, both short and long-term, of your third party audit.
If you have any questions about third party audits Tom Chestnut can be reached at 734-827-6802 or firstname.lastname@example.org