Guest Column | December 6, 2017

Third-Party Audits: Trials, Tribulations, And How To Exceed Requirements

By Greg Sommerville, founder, Global Supplier Verification Consultancy

Third-Party Audits: Trials, Tribulations, And How To Exceed Requirements

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) schemes are being used as the base requirement for many supply chain verification and supplier approval programs, but are customers using them independently? In many incidences, I have noted customers are taking only the GFSI certificate as a verification step without fully understanding the challenges that the schemes are having. Here I review some of those challenges.

Setting the scene, I am a true believer in third-party audits, specifically the GFSI schemes. However, I still have some trepidation about auditor competence, which has been a dominant theme even in GFSI meetings. Third-party audits are supposed to be completed by trained, experienced, and sector-confident auditors who have in-depth food safety knowledge, but there are challenges for the certification bodies, scheme owners, and customers requesting these audits. In some cases, sector categories are very broad, many ingredients may have specific risks, and be used in a multitude of ways that time-constricted auditors may not necessarily understand or be aware of.  

With huge growth in the third-party audit requirements — stemming from the increasing burden of country-specific food safety requirements — the question must be asked, “Is the availability of competent auditors keeping pace with the growth or is there a lack of competent auditors?” Certification bodies have oversight of auditors on their books and scheme owners ensure that scheme’s auditors have specific skills, but there is still room for fraudulent activities and letting the “bad actors” through.