Utilizing Food Safety Audits to Ensure Brand Integrity Through the COVID-19 Pandemic
By Kimberly Onett
With waves of COVID-19 outbreaks driving the daily cadence of business around the world, maintaining and building on customer relationships are key for success moving forward into the post-COVID-19 business environment. Throughout the pandemic, audit specifiers have moved through the phases of “wait and see” to an “all or nothing” mentality that on-site audits were the only way to assess a supplier; they have finally moved on to remote or “virtual” audits. With the limitations of travel and auditor resources predicted to last into early 2021, drivers for a line of sight into food safety practices of manufacturers through a second- or third-party audit remain strong.
With consumers staying close to home and more aware of the foods they eat and where they come from, the spotlight is on food manufacturers and food safety now more than ever. If a product fails to meet safety expectations, consumers are ready to voice their opinions and share facts on social media at sites such as iwaspoisioned.com. They are blunt with their comments and complaints, and their perception of the issue becomes the reality of the brand. A third- or second-party audit provides visibility into a supplier’s food safety management system and allows audit specifiers to continue to measure, track, and trend key performance indicators in their supply chain.
Audits are a crucial component in maintaining food safety standards and certification. They provide transparency and assurance that standards for continued safety are in place. Audits are independent, objective assessments of a manufacturer’s food safety and quality management system, including the level of implementation of that system within the day-to-day operations and the site’s food safety culture. Key food safety and quality programs are at risk with the pressures of responding to the pandemic, in particular, food fraud, crisis management, and the internal audit program.
While sites may conduct internal audits of their own on a regular basis, staffing constraints due to illness or increased production demand often push internal audits to the side. A second- or third-party food safety audit provides a credible, unbiased verification of the system to ensure the food safety programs are followed and producing safe products. Maintaining your Global Food Safety Initiative-benchmarked certification or continuing with an annual second-party audit demonstrates your company’s commitment to food safety, quality, and continual improvement.
With a higher demand for food products during a pandemic, food fraud can be more prevalent. With the increased pressure on the supply chain, there are increased opportunities for fraudulent activities. For example, scarcity of key ingredients, the urgent need for secondary suppliers of ingredients, or product-specific ingredients can cause a necessary loosening of supplier approval requirements that could lead to fraudulent activity in the supply chain. Completing a third-party audit, which includes criteria of crisis management, food fraud, and change management, will shine a light on issues that might not have been top of mind due to the crisis at hand. An independent review of a food fraud program in the current circumstances will serve sites well as a challenge to the effectiveness of their risk assessment and mitigation measures in the food fraud prevention program.
The food manufacturing industry has made significant year-on-year investments of time and money into maintaining their food safety system management systems and certifications. Continuing to protect that investment by maintaining your food safety certification or second-party audits builds confidence and trust in your customer base.
Food safety audits focus on the programs that control food safety hazards. As the disruption COVID -19 has caused the food manufacturing industry continues, changes to food safety plans and associated procedural controls will change. Audits challenge the effectiveness of those controls and the training programs that result from program changes. Demonstrating a strong food management system shows your customers and your employees that following best practices for food safety leads to safer products for consumers. Conducting a third-party food safety audit is critical for customer confidence and maintaining brand integrity in the marketplace.
Go the extra mile to ensure the resiliency of the food supply chain! Contact us to see how NSF International can be of assistance with regard to food safety audits.
Kimberly Onett is a customer-focused leader with 20 years’ experience in developing and delivering Food Safety and Quality Auditing and Training Programs. Committed to empowering the NSF Supplier Assurance Global team to deliver flexible and innovative audit programs utilizing both NSF Proprietary audits and customer-specific standards.
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) with a B.S. in Animal Sciences, Ms. Onett holds several industry certifications, focused on food safety and quality implementation including ASQ’s CMQ/OE and Lead Auditor ISO 22000:2018. Past registrations include SQF Auditor, IFS Logistics, BRC ATP and Auditor for food and Storage and Distribution, FSSC 2200 auditor, and ISO 2200:2005 Audit Team Leader.
The NSF Global Food Division provides expertise and accredited services across all supply chain sectors, including agriculture, animal feed, Animal Wellness, produce, processing, distribution, seafood, quality management software, retail, and food services.