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NFPA developed the program after learning that some suppliers undergo as many as 20 audits or more for their facilities, each with different forms and standards. Scheduled for phased implementation next year, the voluntary program will provide a means for companies to apply uniform, industry-wide standards to suppliers rather than standards and requirements of their own. As a result, a single NFPA audit could conceivably satisfy the requirements for several processors, thereby eliminating the need for duplicate audits.
A 26-company task force of NFPA members, including Pillsbury and Kraft, designed the basic elements of the program, including audit standards and auditor expertise. NFPA noted that the program will judge the adequacy and performance in the areas of "quality-related management responsibility and prerequisite programs, HACCP-based food safety programs, production controls, quality management systems and regulatory considerations." As described by NFPA, the program will work as follows
- NFPA will apply a comprehensive audit standard, which includes both food safety and quality systems, and provide a combination of descriptive findings and comments.
- The audit's uniform standards will meet or exceed -- but not replace -- standards for existing federal or state inspection programs.
- NFPA will establish qualifications, certification and continuing education programs for auditors.
- Third-party auditors will perform the evaluations.
- NFPA will contract with suppliers to coordinate the selection of auditors, schedule audits and distribute audit reports, including any corrective action, to processors.
- NFPA experts will routinely check audit reports for consistency and completeness.
- NFPA will establish an adjudication process for handling disputes.