In a paper published in Science Direct, Doug Powell et al. critiqued the limits food safety audits and inspections and provided recommendations for strengthening the system.
In the “Audits and inspections are never enough: A critique to enhance food safety” paper, they noted there have been many foodborne illness outbreaks linked to food processors that have passed third-party audits and inspections, raising questions about the utility of both.
They identified audit reports as useful if the purchaser who requires them reviews the results, understands the risks addressed by the standards and makes risk-reduction decisions based on the results.
“From past examples, there appears to be a disconnect between what auditors provide (a snapshot) and what buyers believe they are doing (a full verification of product and process).”
Talking a food safety game
Powell, a professor of food safety at Kansas State University, told FoodProductionDaily.com that everyone talks a good food safety game but it is the companies who are ultimately responsible for ensuring food is safe.
“Any inspection is only a snapshot but it can still provide valuable information.
“Take restaurant inspections, they are made public and are subject to public accountability but that doesn’t happen in food processing plants.”
Powell added that the industry needs to get ahead of and stop reacting to food safety concerns.
“Outbreaks culminate in a bunch of mistakes, they are not a random act of god.
“With most food we can’t be sure if it is luck or if firms are doing the right things but they label if it is healthy, organic, sustainable so why not here’s what we do to ensure food safety.”
“Audits and inspections are not enough, when there is an outbreak the public response is huge and it gets them thinking about it.”
When asked if a lack of resources was the problem, he said: “Economics always play a role with low margins and needing to maximise turnover but you are only as good as your frontline employees.
“The USDA and FDA are doing all they can with their resources, the onus is on food producers who make the food as an outbreak can take you down.”
The use of audits to help create, improve, and maintain a genuine food safety culture holds the most promise in preventing foodborne illness and safeguarding public health.
They concluded: “A common thread in all of the outbreaks described is a clear lack of food safety culture among the implicated companies. Companies who blame the auditor or inspector for outbreaks of foodborne illness should also blame themselves.”