With their reputations very much at stake, retailers are increasingly resorting to doing unannounced audits of their suppliers and seeking the same of those carried out by third-party auditors.
The British Retail Consortium's (BRC's) Global Standard, one of a number of third-party food hygiene schemes, will embrace this approach more widely in the future.
BRC version 6 Global Standard
Changes contained in Version 6 of BRC Global Standard for food safety will probably, for example, lead to more unannounced audits of manufacturers, say commentators. Some have reported that the BRC has been forced down this road because of some retailers' increased concerns about the robustness and ability of third-party audits to protect their brands' reputations.
While signing up to unannounced third-party audits is currently voluntary for suppliers, some believe it is only a matter of time before it becomes the norm. They argue that supermarkets will eventually only agree to trade with suppliers that are prepared to accept this practice.
Meanwhile, many retailers will continue to carry out their own audits and will continue to do so until they can be sure that third-party audits provide the level of assurance on supplier food hygiene that they demand.
"I think it [rising numbers of unannounced audits] is a pressure that is going to be increasing in the next few years," said food safety consultant Dr Jo Head.
Others agree with this assessment. But Head argued that unannounced audits could prove particularly problematic for those food and drink manufacturers that continue to rely on paper-based food safety systems