Economic and time pressures, along with the increasing size and diversity of the supply chain, made it clear that these repetitive audits were not a sustainable option. A more recent audit trend has been to accept a single, independent, accredited third-party audit using an industry-sector specific or internationally accepted audit scheme. This more efficient and improved process has allowed some companies to reallocate the potential cost savings to further strengthen the other elements of vendor quality, such as product compliance testing.
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Explore This IssueOctober/November 2009
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Today, for example, a lot of activity in the retail food industry is focused on different food safety and quality auditing schemes (BRC, Dutch HACCP, IFS, SQF, FSSC 22000) as related to the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Benchmarking Standard. The GFSI was launched in May 2000. The GFSI guidance document contains commonly agreed-upon criteria for food standards, against which any food or farm assurance standard can be benchmarked. GFSI does not undertake any accreditation or certification activities.
Retailers commonly accept certificates based on recognized standards or programs in order to assess suppliers of private-label products and fresh products and meat and ensure that production is carried out in a safe manner. While each auditing scheme differs in various aspects, under GFSI all are identified as containing common criteria defined by food safety experts, with the objective of making the manufacture of food as safe as possible. This, in turn, enables a retailer to accept certificates from different audit schemes that have been benchmarked, knowing that at least these common criteria have been evaluated.
While a mutual acceptance strategy for food quality and safety audits for vendor approvals has obvious benefits, it can result in potential drawbacks that should be carefully considered in your company’s overall vendor quality assurance program.
The following are some key points to consider and pitfalls to avoid when using mutual acceptance of a standardized audit protocol in your vendor quality assurance program.
Audit the auditor: Do not completely abandon vendor audits conducted by your company or a third-party audit firm you contract with—you still need to audit the auditor. Consider requesting authorization to be present for scheduled audits on your most critical vendors.
Identify any gaps: Understand the differences among the various audit schemes you are willing to accept. Assemble a team of your company subject matter experts and consultants from quality, engineering, production, and procurement to identify any gaps in the standardized protocols. Pay special attention to items that concern your company products and to processes that were examined in the past that may now be missing.
Reallocate resources to fill in the gaps: Make sure that all of the gaps identified in the standardized protocols are covered and addressed. For example, while vendor processing and laboratory testing record reviews may be part of the new accepted standardized protocols, the records and testing related to your products may not have been audited. Reallocate resources by conducting a supplemental focused audit or by conducting improved statistically based sample compliance verification testing to specification.
Trust, but verify: Never base vendor acceptance simply on “certification” against the mutually accepted audit protocol or on the fact that a vendor has a high rating. Ensure that an effective procedure is in place to have a subject matter expert review the mutually accepted audit findings and observations of your vendor. What might be considered an observation by the audit protocol and the auditor can be a significant issue to your products and process. Vendor audits are just one element of an overall vendor quality approval and surveillance program that should be supplemented with independent product testing by an accredited laboratory.