Unannounced food-safety audits likely

Third-party audits under the SQF food-safety standard likely will shift from scheduled plant reviews to unannounced visits by 2014, according to Michael Govro, technical/quality assurance manager at NSF International.

Govro told attendees Wednesday at Tyco Integrated Security’s Food Defense Strategy Exchange in Chicago that the consensus at a recent SQF meeting was that unannounced audits are needed to bolster public confidence in the country’s food-safety system, “and I think the other (GFSI) standards will follow, to strengthen perceptions of the validity of third-party audits.” Those standards include BRC, FSSC 22000 and IFS.

The Global Food Safety Initiative is the international sanctioning body composed of major food retailers and foodservice organizations, as well as the largest food processors. It approves food-safety standards like SQF, while companies such as NSF and SAI Global recruit and train qualified inspectors who conduct audits to those standards. 

Govros’ remarks were in response to a food professional’s observation that public distrust of industry self-regulation has been fostered by events like the Peanut Corporation of America Salmonella outbreak in 2009. Now-shuttered PCA supplied private-label peanut butter and peanut paste as an ingredient to more than 200 other food companies. While T7deaths and more than 700 illnesses were attributed to products tied to PCA, the company had received high food-safety scores in independent audits performed by AIB International. Product recall losses associated with the PCA event are estimated to have exceeded $1 billion and involved 4,228 products.

The PCA event solidified retail support for the GFSI standards program. Walmart, Kroger and McDonalds are among the companies requiring or strongly encouraging all their suppliers. It also galvanized manufacturer support for the Food Safety Modernization Act among major companies like Kellogg, which calculated it lost more than $65 million in PCA-related recalls, not including brand equity losses.