The four steps of food safety systems

Who hasn’t felt nervous before an audit? There is so much pressure today on food safety professionals to accomplish successfully audits, especially when we have a big client requiring it or a certification body doing it. Most of us neglect the fact that audits should be perceived as one (more) powerful tool in the continuous improvement of our food safety system.

Audits
What is an audit? Probably one of the most common and used audit definition is the one provided by the ISO 19011 – Guidelines for auditing management systems. In its last update (2018) the ISO document defines audit as systematic, independent, and documented process for obtaining objective evidence and evaluate it objectively to determine the extent to which the audit criteria are fulfilled.

In this definition, ISO decided to reinforce the importance of the evidence being objective since the only change from the 2011 definition was the substitution of audit evidence for objective evidence. More details can be found in the GFSI definition for audit present in the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements version 7.2: A systematic and functionally independent examination to determine whether activities and related results comply with a conforming scheme, whereby all the elements of this scheme should be covered by reviewing the supplier’s manual and related procedures, together with an evaluation of the production facilities. Clearly, in common, we have that audits should be a systematic and independent process to determine compliance with criteria.

As a systematic process, auditing has two main roles:
1. Validating that the food safety systems are thought and built to fulfil the criteria
2. Verifying that the activities performed to comply with what is planned and are effective.
If we think in simple terms, we can divide a food safety system into four steps. First, we have to research what should be done (based on what the organisation does, the law, criteria or elements of the conforming scheme or system). Then say what you do. That is, we should have defined what is planned to do to fulfil the criteria. But this is not enough. More important even is to do as you say. In daily work, people in the organisation should execute their functions and tasks accordingly with what is established. Finally, we must have evidence to be sure we can always reply affirmatively to the question: is it done as said? During an audit, the auditor should validate that what you say you do is enough, go to the field and verify not only that things are done as said but also look for evidence that was done as said.
The Auditor

As presented above, during an audit the auditor must be able to validate and verify compliance with criteria or requirements. For that, the auditor must have adequate attributes and knowledge. In the diagram below are presented the main elements of an auditor and an audit.

If audits are to be used as a tool to improve the food safety system it must be performed independently and free from bias or conflict of interest, should be systematic and well documented. Although sometimes it may look like that anyone can be an auditor, that is not the case, at least, for food safety audits. The first two essential elements in an auditor, personal characteristics and skills are related to the person and not specific to food safety. Typically, an auditor should have ethical behaviour, be an organised and observant person (even curious) and have an emphatic and diplomatic approach. The auditor will also benefit from having skills related to how to question or interview people, how to conduct a systematic audit, how to prepare an audit report and active listening, among others. On top of the pyramid is, of course, the knowledge of food safety and the industry. It is paramount that auditors know the law and requirements or criteria that apply to the organisation and its product line they are auditing. Education, training and experience in the field they are auditing is also a basic requirement but is also essential for how much the organisation may benefit from the audit.
The Future of Audits
Assessing and harmonising an auditor’s knowledge and skills is certainly an important goal for the future. This is important not only to establish a minimal baseline of competencies for auditors but also to establish credibility for the profession and the process. The recent release by GFSI knowledge exam is a step in that direction, offering a consistent method to assess auditor knowledge across a range of relevant skills for all GFSI-recognised programmes. Auditors seeking to audit GFSI-recognised certification programs will find questions about specific technical skills well as standard audit skills.

Another aspect that needs to be improved is the perception of value added by food safety audits. Auditors should do everything in their power (without compromising the independent, systematic and documented approach) to make the process beneficial to the organisation and their food safety system.

Technology is evolving at an outstanding pace but for the moment the adaptation of new tools and technologies to auditing seems delayed. It is not difficult to foresee that technologies like smart glasses can play a role in the future of audits. Mainly people advocate that this tool could reduce travel costs but maybe we should focus more on how this technology could increase the number of audits for the same cost.

Mapping out Australia’s food future

CSIRO has released its Food & Agribusiness Roadmap, charting a course for products, technology and innovation to secure future success in the sector.

New technologies could see people eating algae-based sources of protein, developing allergenic-free nuts and tolerable varieties of lactose and gluten, and reducing environmental impact through edible packaging.

Speaking at the launch during the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology’s (AIFST) 50th Anniversary Convention in Sydney, Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Craig Laundy, highlighted the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship in driving new economic growth in the industry.

Keeping a greater share of food processing onshore and better differentiating Australian food products are major themes across the Roadmap, which calls on businesses to act quickly or risk losing future revenue streams to the competitive global market.

Developed with widespread industry consultation and analysis, the roadmap seeks to assist Australian food and agribusinesses with the desire to pursue growth and new markets.

Dr Martin Cole, deputy director of CSIRO Agriculture and Food, said Australia was well positioned to act as a delicatessen of high-quality products that meet the needs of millions of informed and discerning customers both here and abroad.

“Australian businesses are among the most innovative in the world, and together with our world-class scientists, can deliver growth in the food and agribusiness sector amid unprecedented global change,” Dr Cole said.

“Less predictable growing conditions, increasingly global value chains and customers who demand healthier, more convenient and traceable foods are driving businesses to new ways of operating.

“Advances are already being made through the use of blockchain technology and the development of labels that change colour with temperature or time, or are programmed to release preservatives.

“This roadmap will set us on the path to sustainable growth in the sector.”

The roadmap was developed in collaboration with the government-funded food and agribusiness growth centre: Food Innovation Australia Limited (FIAL).

Recently, FIAL launched their Sector Competitiveness Plan, which outlines the over-arching industry vision to grow the share of Australian food in the global marketplace and the necessary strategy to achieve the vision.

“With the growing Asian middle class, Australia is in the box seat to take advantage of the many emerging export opportunities,” FIAL Chairman Peter Schutz said.

“Consumers are looking for differentiated products that cater to their needs.

“This is especially exciting for Australian food and agribusinesses which have the capability to respond with customised and niche products.”

Australia exports over $40 billion worth of food and beverages each year with 63 per cent headed for Asia.

Dr Cole explained that Australia is a trusted supplier of sustainable, authentic, healthy, high quality and consistent products.

“We must focus on these strengths and enhance the level of value-adding to our products,” Dr Cole said.

“Recent Austrade analysis shows early signs of such a shift, as for the first time in Australia’s history value-added foods have accounted for the majority (60 per cent) of food export growth.”

The roadmap outlines value-adding opportunities for Australian products in key growth areas, including health and wellbeing, premium convenience foods and sustainability-driven products that reduce waste or use less resources.

Five key enablers for these opportunities are explored in the roadmap: traceability and provenance, food safety and biosecurity, market intelligence and access, collaboration and knowledge sharing, and skills.

These enablers align with FIAL’s knowledge priority areas that are central in helping the food and agribusiness industry achieve its vision and deliver increased productivity, sustainable economic growth, job creation, and investment attraction for the sector.

The roadmap calls for improved collaboration and knowledge sharing to generate scale, efficiency and agility across rapidly changing value chains and markets.

“To survive and grow, the challenge facing Australia’s 177,000 businesses in the food and agribusiness sector is to identify new products, services and business models that arise from the emerging needs of tomorrow’s global customers,” Dr Cole said.

Queensland to see dedicated food events in 2016

The ongoing strength of Queensland’s food industry has resulted in the announcement of two state specific food events to take place in 2016, both to be staged by Diversified Communications, leaders in food industry events.  

Food Technology Queensland (Foodtech Queensland) and Fine Food Queensland will both bring the best of international and national food trends to the sunshine state, where the food and beverage sectors are one of the largest employers and considered an industry leader. 

Taking place in April, Fine Food Queensland will return to Brisbane with a fresh face – literally. Considered the state’s premier food trade event, the 2016 show will have a core focus on fresh, healthy options for industry professionals, and a strong local feel.

Extensive research into both the event and the market has driven the shift in focus for the show, and promises real business opportunities for Queensland’s foodservice, hospitality and food retail industries. 

A new event for the state’s food manufacturing industry, Foodtech Queensland will launch at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre on 26 – 28 June, and will focus specifically on the state’s strongest food manufacturing categories.

Serving to connect businesses in these areas with new technology and ideas to help them grow their operations, the event will co-locate with The Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology (AIFST)’s 49th Annual Convention, which attracts up to 400 food technologists and other food professionals. 

Covering all facets of the foodservice industry, Diversified Communications’ two Queensland events have been carefully developed to respond to the specific needs of Queensland’s relevant industries. As a result, tailored education sessions will form a key part of the 2016 event schedules, as will the translation of relevant national and international trends to local circumstances.

With combined visitor numbers of over 8,000, Fine Food Queensland and Foodtech Queensland provide the perfect opportunity for those in foodservice and hospitality to learn, network and grow their businesses. 

Fine Food Queensland:
When:                 10 – 12 April 2016; 
Where:             Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre
More information:     Sales enquiries: https://www.finefoodqueensland.com.au 
Registration:     https://register.finefoodqueensland.com.au/FINEFOOD16B/index.php 

Foodtech Queensland:
When:                 26 – 28 June 2016
Where:             Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre
More information:     Sales enquiries: www.foodtechqld.com.au