The Changing Face of Auditing Conference
Thursday 13 October 2011
Eastwood Park Conference centre, Falfield, Wotton-under Edge, Gloucestershire, GL12 8DA
Despite the early start for many of us, energy was high as members of the IFST Western Branch began to prepare the exhibition hall for the sold-out food auditing conference.
Trade exhibitors, including Quest Infotech, Sai Global, Hygiene Monitoring Systems, Det Norske Veritas (DNV), and Intertek, set up displays lining the exhibition hall. The audience was composed of IFST members, representatives from the food industry, as well as 23 students from Sheffield-Hallam University, who had begun their coach journey at 4:30 in order to attend the conference. All of the students were final year undergraduate students on a Food Science and Nutrition course. I had the chance to speak to a few of them and they were very enthusiastic about the conference. When asked if they had a particular interest in food auditing, they said that had taken an entire food auditing module for their course. In the module, they practiced their skills by carrying out an audit of a kitchen at university.
A few minutes before 9:00, the conference was ready to begin and attendees of the conference made their way into the seating area. Brian Hendley, the Conference and IFST Western Branch Chairman welcomed everyone and kicked off the conference by providing some background on how the idea to hold a food auditing conference came about, posing some vital questions which served as a premise of the conference – to closely examine the what, why, how of auditing.
Morning Session – The Legal Imperative
The first speaker of the day, Kevin Swoffer, talked us through the birth and development of third party verification. Beginning with a story he called ‘Nathan and the Stone’ – we were told how the combination of a publication by M&S employee Nathan Goldenberg and raisin stones in a little girl’s birthday cake led to the creation of the first retail food division at M&S, and thus, the birth of food auditing. Swoffer talked about the significance of the Food Safety Act of the early 1990s, the legal implications of ‘due diligence’, and how this led to the creation of third party audits as a means of meeting legal compliance. Chaos followed this act, leading to what Swoffer deems “the 1992-1998 ‘free for all’” – suppliers were constantly under pressure from retailers to meet their individual standards. There was a need for all retailers to comply with the same food safety standards, which led to the development of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Technical Food Standard in 1999. Swoffer then examined the progress that has been made since then in developing food safety standards.
Dr. Louise Manning provided a legal viewpoint into the reasons for auditing, drawing back to the Food Safety Act of 1990 and due diligence. In order to comply with this, food operators must prove that they have taken all reasonable care to avoid committing an offense. Dr. Manning described the ways by which food operators demonstrate this – the steps taken to minimise risk in the workplace and the crucial role that auditing plays in ensuring that food operators are producing safe food and complying with food safety standards set forth by legislation.
John Hukku widened the scope of the conference, providing information on how food safety standards are maintained at an international level. Speaking from a great deal of experience, Hukku described how the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) conduct audits of member states to ensure that they are complying with EU legislation and the responsibilities of Central Competent Authorities in this process. This presentation contributed to a greater understanding of the entire realm of food safety by including the network of governmental bodies.
Paul Stennett, the Chief Executive of United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) spoke to the audience about the role of UKAS in the auditing process. UKAS is the UK’s national accreditation body, which aims to “get under the skin” of organisations to determine their competence beyond the day of an audit. This tied into Hukku’s talk, as the EU requires each of its member states to have an accreditation body, who each assess one another. Once again, the audience was given more of an insight into how food organisations function on an international basis.
Stuart Musgrove wrapped up the morning session with a lively talk on the changing role for food law enforcement. Adding on the previous presentations, his presentation examined the role of the local authorities in enforcing food law set forth in European Union legislation. The audience was given an interesting perspective on the chain of command involved in enforcing food law, how it trickles down from the EU level to the local level and the legal responsibilities of all parties involved.
After Musgrove’s presentation, the audience was given the opportunity to ask the speakers some questions.
Before breaking up for lunch, Brian Hendley and members of the Western Branch recognised John Prosser, former Chairman of the IFST Western Branch, for his dedication and contribution to the Branch. The Branch thanked Mr. Prosser and presented him with a gift.
After lunch, the audience reconvened for the second part of the conference, The Commercial Imperative, which was introduced by David Baines, Chairman of the afternoon session.
The Commerical Imperative
Dawn Fassam, Head of Supply Chain Inspection for NSF-CMi, an independent food assurance brand, spoke to the audience about the background and benefits of third party auditing. She reviewed the types of standards available for third party audit, both accredited and non-accredited, and how companies choose the standard to use.
Kaarin Goodburn of the Chilled Food Association (CFA) talked about the unique position of the chilled prepared food sector. After a listeria craze in 1989, the chilled prepared food industry developed their own standards as a way of demonstrating the competence of the industry and building trust in the consumer. Since then, the self-regulated sector has grown more than 18-fold. Goodburn outlined how various food types are risk assessed and treated in a way to ensure food safety, using various examples and a ‘decision tree.’
Chris Grimes, Scheme Director at SALSA, talked about the background and development of SALSA. For much of the day, the presentations have focused on the auditing processes for medium to large sized organisations (except when briefly mentioned by Dawn Fassam). SALSA, which stands for ‘Safe and Local Supplier Approval,’ is a scheme that arose in response to the need for small/medium enterprise audit standards. IFST is the scheme operator. SALSA provides small businesses, which do not have the same resources as large companies, with audit standards as well as support in the form of guidance, tools, tips, and mentors.
David Brackston, Technical Director of Food Schemes BRC Trading Ltd., spoke to the audience about the new, highly-anticipated BRC Global Standard for Food Safety, Issue 6. Brackston spoke about the growth of the BRC scheme, a frequent topic of the conference, since its inception in 1999. However, most of the presentation highlighted the changes that had been made in issue 6 to improve the BRC standard. Many of the changes addressed various issues with BRC standards that had been brought up in previous presentations throughout the day, such as that auditors should spend more time in the factory as opposed to looking through records. This presentation was of great importance and interest to all of the professionals in the room, eager to see the unveiling of Issue 6 and what it had to offer.
Gordon Hayburn, Technical Director of Agri-Foods (Americas) QMI-SAI Global gave a very entertaining and insightful presentation about what the BRC Issue 6 needs to address in order to fulfil its high standard. Hayburn had a great deal of pride in the BRC as a high-quality standard and emphasised that in order for it to actually be a global standard, harmonisation (a word that seemed to be present in every presentation) is absolutely essential. He made the point of saying that the BRC is “not a sub-standard, it’s a standard” and should be treated as such – there will be a number of challenges for that arise in response to making the BRC global, certain customs and practices in many countries will not be accepted under global BRC standards and should not be accepted simply because they are acceptable in that particular country. It is vital that certification bodies and auditors have a depth of knowledge necessary to challenge food production companies. Auditors must all be on the same level of experience and maintain the high-quality standards of the BRC Issue 6 in order for it to be a success.
The conference wrapped up with a presentation by Ian Abbotts, a Hygiene Manager at Marks and Spencer. This was an interesting end to the presentation, as M&S ‘go it alone’ on food supplier auditing. M&S have their own Codes of Practices and Guidelines in relation to food safety and hygiene as well their own third party auditing company, Food Safety Consortium. Abbotts described how the history and development of the M&S food business and their relationship with suppliers led them to using their own standards and auditors. This was out of sync with the recurring reference to the need for ‘harmonisation’ of standards, a theme which surfaced throughout the day. The effect of this presentation was especially strong, as it posed a stark contrast to the previous two presentations, which had focused on a great deal of work that had been done to improve the BRC standards.
The conference ended with a very lively question and answer session, where the topic of auditors arose again. Ian Abbotts included a great deal of photographs of factories in his presentation, when asked if he reported these issues to the BRC, Abbotts said no. This tied back into Gordon Hayburn’s presentation, as he argued there are “too many auditors not auditing” to BRC standards but steps are being done to change this. David Brackston emphasised the need for certifying bodies to report problems, as the BRC cannot be everywhere at the same time. He also spoke about how the BRC was working hard to raise the competence and consistency of auditors. Gordon Hayburn elegantly brought the discussion to an end, saying that we must not be complacent with just having standards, but always want to improve the UK food industry, moving it from good to great.
David Baines thanked everyone for attending the conference, which happened to be the first conference on the topic of food auditing held in the UK, and provided a few closing words.