The switch to unannounced audits followed a consultation period with Institute for Global Food Security director and professor of food safety at Queen’s University Belfast Professor Chris Elliott. It comes after the horsemeat scandal in 2013, which saw the adulteration of beef products with horsemeat in supermarkets.
Elliott, who published a government-backed report into the horsemeat contamination scandal last year, said at a British Meat Processors Association conference in London in June that unannounced audits would become more prominent.
Although no M&S products were found to be contaminated with horsemeat in 2013, the retailer’s director of food technology Paul Willgoss told Food Manufacture that M&S hadn’t been complacent.
Safeguard against fraud
“We’ve spent a lot of time speaking with Chris Elliott and learning about what he felt the industry should do [to safeguard against fraud] and have been translating that back into our business,” Willgoss said.
“From that, we’ve changed our audit system. We had a hygiene audit and a products and processing audit. We’ve effectively removed the duplication between those two programmes and created one programme, which is the integrity audit and that’s unannounced and that’s the first time M&S has done that.”
The majority of the industry based audits on trust, which was something Elliott had pointed out, he added. While trust between M&S and its suppliers was still important, it was vital to test that all of the mechanisms and controls were in place, Willgoss said.
Why unannounced audits
“You’re not testing relationships with unannounced audits and it’s not about trying to trip anyone up, you’re testing to make sure any issues can be found and dealt with. That’s why we’ve gone towards unannounced audits.
“It’s a big step for us and I think all of our supplier-base has embraced it and understands that the objective is to create resilient supply chains that are difficult to penetrate for those who want to do the wrong thing.”
Willgoss and his team revealed the unannounced audit programme in March this year and carried out the first one in April.
Although Willgoss said it was currently a “transition phase”, where the retailer and its suppliers could learn together to see what would and would not work, the ambition was to roll the model out across the majority of M&S’s suppliers.