Audits play an integral role in verifying proper food safety practices at food and beverage processing facilities. Food audits help to determine if food is manufactured in a safe environment and help to determine if hazards are properly identified, controlled or eliminated.
But who are professionals who actually perform these audits? These professional are food auditors and today FoodGrads is exploring this important career. There is an increasing demand for food auditors. Keep reading to learn how these professionals are ensuring that consumers are kept safe!
1. Food Auditors Audit Food
A food auditor is a professional who:
performs food safety audits on client organizations to ensure food safety standards are upheld. They verify and document evidence of compliance and non-compliance and write comprehensive reports on audit findings. When corrective actions are identified they communicate with QC and assist in the management of addressing any appeals. Finally, they educate and train client employees on food safety practices.
In addition to evaluating food safety itself, food auditors will audit a manufacturing plant and ensure that they have systems in place for evaluating the facility, identifying issues and taking corrective actions. They want to make sure that even if an audit is not being performed that the company is able to take corrective actions on their own.
For example, an auditor may find that there are no temperature controls in a transportation vehicle. The auditor will look to quality and ask why have they not created a system to identify the error.
2. Food Auditors Travel a Lot
Some food auditors can expect to travel 80% or more of their time. They perform frequent and overnight travel with some of these trips being around the entire country. Audits can last days at a time so auditors need to be comfortable being away from home a few days at a time. Although minor these professionals are usually responsible for finding their own accommodations (this is covered by the company).
3. Food Auditors Have to Have Industry Experience
Food auditing is not a career that a new graduate can jump into right out of the gate. All food auditors have to start with hands on training in a quality related role like quality control or quality assurance for at least 3-5 years.
In addition to work experience food auditors generally have university degrees in science. Examples include Food Science, Chemistry, Biology and Microbiology. These degrees provide a solid foundation for when students enter the industry. QC for example requires a lot of laboratory
In some rare cases some food auditors may only have high schools diploma’s but their extensive work experience in quality control/assurance has allowed them over come this hurdle. However, this is becoming less common as the need for education is pushing the demand forward.
The best food auditors are those who have been mentored/trained by other food auditors. Auditors trained by a mentor have a better grasp of audit planning, interviewing techniques, document review and evaluating corrective actions focused on risk. Doing so will set that person apart and help to build a good risk auditor reputation and secure a long term career.
If you are not familiar with the auditing process you should know that a lot of time is spent going through records. According to Nancy Scharlach, 60% of audits are spent reading Standard Operating Procedures(SOPs) and day-to-day records. For example, a day-to-day record could be a standard document for the testing of pH on a milk product. An auditor will read through and ensure that every single test is signed off for and that any test which has a non-compliance has an additional comment talking about the corrective action.
When going through records auditors are looking to see if there are any general negative trends. If one is observed they will seek corrective action and ensure that a new system is put in place to avoid this.
5. Food Auditors Use a Four Step Process
During food audits auditors follow a simple method. The steps that they follow are:
- This step is the basis of everything. Auditors need to have a strong attention for detail and have the ability to see things that others do not. They have to pay attention to the premise and observe that it is properly being maintained and cleaned. Auditors observe people to ensure they are performing their jobs correctly and safely.
- Auditors need to be able to ask the right questions as this ensures communication. These questions can be open or closed ended and depend on what the auditor looking to know. Open ended questions are asked when auditors are seeking more information about a non-compliance to identify the root cause. Closed questions are used when auditors are determining compliance without explanation or qualification.
- When an auditors asks a question they actually listen to the response of the communicator. They are receptive, make encouraging sounds and always check for understanding. When you talk to an auditor you always know they are listening
- Auditors are exposed to a substantial amount of information during audits that is why they need to take clear, concise notes. They record any non-conformances with explicit details so they can follow up at a later time.
6. Food Auditors Have Certifications
There are many different certifications that a auditor is required to possess. These certifications are based on the company they are auditing, the company the auditor works for and the countries they are auditing within. The most common certifications are SQF, HACCP and ISO.
Safe Food Quality (SQF) is a safety program which is recognized by food service and retailers to ensure credible food safety management. SQF differs from other food safety programs because it is the only program recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).
Auditors must be registered by the SQF Institute to carry out audits on behalf of an SQF licensed Certification Body. In order to obtain this certification potential SQF candidates must complete a HACCP training course and complete the SQF systems course. There are so many more requirements for these types of auditors but it is difficult to cover them all in this short fact series. If you are interested in learning more please refer to the SQF Institutes official document on “Criteria for SQF, Food Safety Auditors, Quality Auditors and Technical Reviewers”.
HACCP Auditors on the other hand are auditors who a thorough understanding of HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) standards and principles. The FDA and the USDA even require mandatory HACCP programs for juice and meat. Not only is this program relevant to food but it is also used in other industries like government, manufacturing, service and pharmaceutical.
To be eligible to become a certified HACCP Auditor, workers must have at least five years of on-the-job training in one or more area of ASQ Body of Knowledge. However, if you do have a formal education than this can waive some part of the five-year experience. Recertification is also required every three years. More information about the requirements and certification process can be found on the American Society for Quality website.
Even though an auditor may be highly regarded there will be times that they get push back. Even highly documented, fully supported audit reports will generate disagreement. Individuals can become angry and even deny their actions when they receive the results of the audit.
Food auditors need to have a strong sense of integrity and know what they are doing is essential for safety. This strong integrity comes in the form of resilience and toughness so that they can work with people in a constructive manner. Auditors are able to push through people’s resistance and put safety above all.
8. Food Auditors Have These Set of Skills
- Communication- Auditors need to be able to communicate to effectively with clients and companies to ensure that problems and solutions are understood. If food facilities don’t understand the problem than corrective actions can not be met.
- Critical/Systematic Thinker– These professionals have the ability to think clearly and be sensible both in their structure and purpose. When they see a problem they are able to systematically think about the reasoning and make conclusions.
- Objective– Food auditors are able to remain independent and objective. They have a strong constitution, knowing what is right and are unduly influenced by operating management. Finally, they put food safety above all because consumer health is most important.
Author: Veronica Hislop – Veronica is a Chemistry student studying at Ryerson University and loves looking at the science in the kitchen. She is has a passion for bringing awareness to sustainability in the food industry. When Veronica is taking a break from her food endeavors you will find her at home reading a great novel and playing with her cats.
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