Unannounced food safety audits to 'become norm'

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

Audits: The Co-operative Group will switch to unannounced audits on July 1 2016
Audits: The Co-operative Group will switch to unannounced audits on July 1 2016

Related tags Unannounced audits British co-operative movement The co-operative group

All major supermarkets are likely to follow The Co-operative Group’s decision to impose unannounced audits on own-label food producers, the head of a food safety certification body has warned.

Richard Werran, md at Cert-ID Europe, told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the industry was looking at a “sea change” ​over the next 18 months, after The Co-op said it would start unannounced British Retail Consortium (BRC) audits from July 1 2016.

The Co-op followed the lead of Asda, which initiated unannounced audits in 2013.

However,​ Werran said food and drink manufacturers should see it as a “positive move”​, as it “will help drive a food safety culture through their business”​.

Pre-agreed audits

Currently, food firms producing own-label goods for the other major supermarkets are subjected to food safety audits on pre-agreed dates and times.

Werran believed that in a few years’ time the days of audit times being pre-agreed would be seen as “contrived​”.

“In those scenarios, it gives food manufacturers a chance to ensure their factories are looking at their best. Of course, unannounced audits put a significant amount of pressure on manufacturers, but where’s the harm in that?”​ he said.

“If the senior management team can drive food safety to be part of the culture of the organisation, then they should be able to take something like this in their stride.

BRC audits – at a glance

  • Asda started unannounced audits in 2013
  • The Co-operative Group will switch to unannounced audits on July 1 2016
  • As of June, 900 UK sites were part of the unannounced BRC programme
  • FoodChain ID Europe is able to offer ‘mock’ audits

“Ultimately, we’re all here to serve consumers, so anything that can actually assist the safety of food has got to be a good thing, and has got to be in everyone’s interest,” ​Werran added.

Sister body

According to Werran, sister organisation FoodChain ID Europe is able to assist food firms with mock unannounced audits, in addition to consulting and training.

“We have been approached by some of our clients to conduct mock unannounced audits. Typically, the md and technical director will know about it, but no one else,”​ he said.

“Companies tell us they’re prepared for unannounced audits, but it will ‘stress-test’ their systems and procedures. It’s really an exercise in developing their confidence.”

Last June, the BRC acknowledged that unannounced food safety audits were becoming increasingly common, with around 900 sites now part of its unannounced audit programme.

In a letter to Cert ID, The Co-op said: “Sites have been told to contact their certification bodies by 11 January, and notify them of the change to the unannounced scheme.

“All BRC certification bodies that audit Co-op own-brand manufacturers, including BRC five-rated, are expected to contact their customers to give them time to prepare for change.”

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