Food Engineering
TECH FLASH

The problem with audits: a snapshot in time

In many recent foodborne illness outbreaks/recalls, processors passed audits with high marks

October 29, 2012
Audits don't guarantee food safety
Several recent recalls have shown that passing audits with high marks doesn't guarantee food safety.

Consumers may equate food safety audits with a safe food supply. What’s more dangerous is some processors may also believe a good audit score almost always guarantees safe food products. But several recent recalls have proven the two do not necessarily equate.

“Food auditors provide a snapshot of production processes,” says Doug Powell, a professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology at Kansas State University (KSU). “However, buyers often believe auditors are performing a full verification of every product and process of food production.”

Powell and his collaborators published “Audits and inspections are never enough: A critique to enhance food safety” in Food Control, a food science and technology journal. The article discusses how food safety audits and inspections are key components of the nation’s food safety system for both domestic and imported foodstuffs. However, recent failures in ensuring food safety bring into question the effectiveness of using audits as the only preventative measure.

According to the article, many food safety outbreaks involve processors that have had their food production systems verified and received acceptable ratings from food safety auditors or government inspectors. One such occurrence was the Salmonella outbreak linked to the Peanut Corporation of America in 2009 that recalled more than 3,900 peanut butter and peanut-containing products. According to media reports, a third-party auditor was responsible for evaluating the safety of those peanut products.

“There are lots of limitations with food safety audits and inspections, but with an estimated 48 million sick each year in the US from foodborne illnesses, the question should be how best to reduce the number of sick people,” says Powell. “We hope to kick-start that discussion.

“Audit reports are only useful if the purchaser or food producer reviews the results, understands the risks addressed by the standards and makes risk-reduction decisions based on the results,” adds Powell. “So companies who blame the auditor or inspector for outbreaks of foodborne illness should also blame themselves.

“The biggest challenges to solving the food safety issues we face currently are economic,” says Powell. “Making the nation’s food supply safe usually costs money and an investment in human capital. While inspectors and auditors play an active role in overseeing compliance, the burden for food safety lies primarily with food producers. Inspection efforts, even if doubled, would not be enough to make sure every food item is safe.”

The article is available at the ScienceDirect website.

Related articles:

“Food Safety, The trouble with third-party audits,” FE;

Food Sickens Millions as Company-Paid Checks Find It Safe,” Bloomberg;

Food Safety Audits: Meeting the Certification Challenge Head On,” FE;

Tools to help avoid a disastrous outbreak and recall,” FE;

GFSI Update: Creating a Safe and Effective Worldwide Food System,” FE;

Cantaloupe Listeria contamination calls for FDA control of US auditors,” FE.