Have Food Safety Audits Reduced the Number of Recalls?

Posted: Friday, November 8, 2019 by Global Food Safety Resource

By Victor Muliyil

Major Canadian food retailers and manufacturers rely on the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) approved food safety schemes, (sometimes with additional specific criteria), as the primary criterion for supplier or vendor qualification. The question is: have food safety audits reduced the number of food safety recalls? There is little published evidence correlating food safety certification with the reduction in food safety recalls among certified companies.

recalls nov 2019

The primary assumption in using food safety audits to qualify suppliers is that these audits reduce food safety recalls. Figure 1A, generated from data provided by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), compares food safety recalls from 2015 with 2018 to determine the validity of this assumption.

Fig A. CFIA Food Safety Recalls

Figure 1A shows a slight reduction of just over 6% in overall food safety recalls. However, there is an increase of over 18% in Class 1 recalls, which represent the highest risk to public health, as well as an increase of over 28% in Class 3 recalls. One interpretation is that the CFIA is classifying more recalls as Class 1, but this is contradicted by the increase in Class 3 recalls. The remaining interpretation is clear – there are significant deficiencies in the design and performance of existing food safety audits that reduce their value in reducing the risk of financial or brand reputation loss.

A critical examination of existing food safety scheme design, auditor qualification and training identifies three main reasons for the deterioration in audit effectiveness:

• Audit scheme criteria are not competently evaluated based on risk-based outcome. This results in dilution of auditor time, which is spent on audit planning, identifying case-specific risks and evaluating effectiveness of controls.
• Auditors are qualified based on industry experience instead of on actual audit performance, while audit evaluations and reviews are often performed by inexperienced reviewers, further reducing audit value;
• Audit training is clause based and heavy on definitions. It does not use adult learning techniques or effectively train auditors in risk-based audit preparation, performance and communication skills.

To conclude, addressing these root causes of ineffective food safety audits will go a long way in achieving the goal of these audits –reducing the risk of food safety recalls and resulting loss of consumer trust.

About the Author:
Victor Muliyil, Food Technical Program Manager, SGS North America, is a lead trainer and audit manager for several human and animal food safety training and audit programs, including FSSC 22000, PRP/HACCP and second party Supplier Qualification Audits. He is the creator of the risk-focused, resource-efficient Food Safety Program Optimization initiative. Victor holds degrees in biochemistry and microbiology, and he has over 30 years’ experience in food safety training, implementation and auditing.

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