Transparency, Part Deux

In the last article, “Transparency Needed When Combining HACCP with ISO” [April/May, p. 20], the importance of transparency and openness were discussed in regards to industry and government. The intentions of all concerned are, of course, to produce a safe and wholesome product; but sometimes testing is not as reliable or consistent as it should be in establishments that are interested in maintaining quality and food safety at the same time.

Using HACCP and/or ISO truly emphasizes the need for transparency, as well as due diligence, which is where the next section of this article begins. Without transparency, the records that are kept and the entry and exit conferences held would not be effective, efficient, or useful. Without due diligence, transparency could not itself be nearly as effective.

What is Due Diligence?

Due diligence has become rather important in a banking industry that has seen its share of ups and downs over the last 10 years, for it has also enabled companies to weather the recession.

Does due diligence have application in the food industry? By examining the definition of due diligence, this question can be answered.

According to one Web site, due diligence means “taking care.” It means ensuring that every reasonable precaution has been taken for every circumstance such that all concerned parties, regulators, industrial workers and consumers, are protected, particularly referring to health and safety, both with regard to food safety and occupational safety.

It also means that if a business has tried to meet its obligations and has done what is reasonable and still fails, but has not broken the law, then the business would not be found guilty of wrongdoing in court. That poses two issues: (1) the company cannot break the law, and (2) the prosecutors must prove that a law was broken in its failure to meet its obligations.

In fact, due diligence by its nature sounds like the principles of HACCP; that a plan is in place, employees are trained and supervised , records are up-to-date and corrective actions and future planned actions are given to reduce or prevent the possibility of recurrence.

On the food industry side, these actions indicate that the establishment is operating to the best of its ability in a safe environment. On the regulators side, there are assurances that though something may go dreadfully wrong, the establishment will demonstrate care to maintain safe and sanitary conditions. Transparency is built by the development of these principles and their implementation.

The principles of due diligence are also the principles in the rules of practice, stated in 9 CFR 500, such that fair warning and discussion occurs prior to enforcement actions that might entail cessation of operations for a while. These rules protect both regulators and establishments alike, for it ensures that the establishment had full knowledge that it in fact was failing to meet its obligations and was on the verge of breaking the law and either chose to correct itself or ignored the warnings.

At the same time, due diligence gives regulators the right to ensure that the establishment was given every chance and chose to heed the warnings or chose not to correct their problems. How long should the establishment be under the auspices of due diligence? There is no time frame; that is, if they can prove that they didn’t break the HACCP or SSOPs regulations, and there is still a problem but they are attempting to handle the situation in good faith, then due diligence persists.

If there is contamination or adulteration of product, or if there are food safety issues and those are not being addressed then due diligence cannot function, as the law is broken, according to either CFR 416 (regulations addressing sanitation) or CFR 417 (regulations addressing food safety). In short, due diligence helps the regulator and the establishment determine compliance.

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