If I Am Compliant with a Third-Party Audit, Am I FSMA-Compliant?

Food Scientists

One of the biggest challenges for a company and its Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) is organizing both the food safety plan and materials for an audit. The food safety plan will be reviewed by the local, state, or FDA inspector. Some companies are under USDA inspection as well. In my experience, most food companies have a third-party audit for BRC, SQF, or ISO 22000 certification or with an auditing firm specializing in food manufacturing. How do you prepare for both?

There are different requirements for a government inspection and a third-party audit. The inspection is driven by public health and regulations. Food facilities will be inspected against the requirements for Good Manufacturing Practices, hazard analysis, preventive controls, and recall plan found in the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule. Quite frankly, the government is not concerned at all with your audit criteria. The focus will be on public health and FSMA rules. Going forward, FDA inspections will evolve in to more audit-like activities with the emphasis on record review. The PCQI is required to organize or oversee the organization of records. The goal is to be inspection-ready at all times.

Much of the material that is required for an audit is the same for an inspection. Each certification or auditing body has their own requirements, and often the PCQI has the responsibility of organizing these materials also. Do you need help with organization? I encourage PCQIs whom I train to find that one person at work who loves office supplies. Put them in charge of labeling and storing materials. Trust me, they will love it! Also, find the person who is exceptionally good at organizing electronic documents. Put them in charge of developing the system of storage and retrieval. The PCQI just needs to know where paper and electronic files are and how to access them.

Do you remember Venn diagrams? List everything you need for an inspection in one circle. List everything you need for an audit in a second circle. What overlaps, and what is unique? One option is duplicating common records for both inspection and for auditing. Another option is to keep records unique to an inspection separate from records unique to an audit and have one record of common records. The inspector will not review records unique to an audit. As you are working through this organization, focus on the best location for individual records, in general. Records for an inspection can be paper or electronic, in a format of your choice. There is no mandate for use of forms. Focus on what makes sense for storage and then retrieval of records.

Let’s go back to the original question. If I am compliant with a third-party audit, am I FSMA-compliant? Maybe; it depends. The Preventive Controls for Human Food rule requires a written hazards analysis which identifies hazards requiring a preventive control. The preventive controls go beyond process preventive controls to include allergen, sanitation, and supply chain preventive controls. If all the preventive controls are addressed in the audit requirements, then you are covered for both an inspection and audit. Beyond the Human Food rule, are you compliant with the Sanitary Transportation rule? In 2019, compliance with the Intentional Adulteration rule takes effect. Are you required to comply with any of the other FSMA rules? The answer is complicated.

Still have questions? The ConnectFood website has free resources, and the folks at ConnectFood are here to help! Contact us.

Kathy Knutson, Ph.D., Lead Instructor for Preventive Controls for Human Food (PCHF), Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI), and trained in prevention of Intentional Adulteration (IA). She has food safety expertise in microbiology, hazard analysis, and risk assessment. As a recovering academic, she resides in Green Bay home-of-the-Packers, Wisconsin with her brilliant husband and two handsome sons. Learn more about her consulting services at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathyknutsonphd.