Opinion by Mike Richman
In the interest of full disclosure, I should start this column by admitting that I am not an auditor. Nor am I a trainer. Engineer or lab technician? No way. I certainly can’t claim to be a quality manager, either.
What I am, however, is a devoted, regular consumer of most everything in the major food groups (OK, I struggle with getting enough fiber and eating my fruits and vegetables. What are you, my doctor?)
Anyway, from my position as a gourmand of gravy fries and a connoisseur of caramel popcorn, I’d like to offer a few humble words of thanks to those who make my gustatory gallivanting possible—not to mention safe. Yes, I’m talking about all of you in the food safety auditor community.
Access to safe quality food affects every person on the planet. In highly developed western nations, where the food supply chain is quite lengthy and complex, the requirements found in standards like ISO 22000 and/or schemes such as the Global Food Safety Initiative help put guard rails in place to minimize both the frequency and severity of outbreaks of illness caused by food. Government regulations vary by nation, sometimes slightly and sometimes widely, but most have federal departments, like the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, that can shut down, fine, and even imprison gross violators of food safety requirements.
Yet in a massive industry like the one represented by food production, delivery, storage, and preparation, oversights can and all-too-frequently do happen, with sickening (and sometimes deadly) consequences. In recent years we’ve seen wave upon wave of foodborne illness hit consumers across the world. Whether it’s romaine lettuce, ground beef, shellfish, or innumerable other foods, there’s always some element of risk involved in the necessary acts of eating and drinking.
If you’re like me, when food recalls happen, you often find yourself of two minds: First, you’re angry that contaminated food escaped into the supply chain the first place. But then, you’re relieved that the problem was identified, and the tainted product was removed promptly before more people were sickened.
After that comes the hard work of making sure that whatever process or procedure turned out to be the root cause of the problem in question is uncovered and corrective action taken. This is absolutely critical because the only thing more tragic than a quality oversight that hurts or kills someone is for that same oversight to hurt or kill someone again.
Throughout the entire lifecycle of this process—from certification to standards or schemes to process analysis and sampling to, heaven forbid, root cause analysis and corrective action in the case of a major quality escape—the role of the food safety auditor is abundantly clear. You are the one with the training, knowledge, and experience to accurately assess the current state of an audited food industry organization. Your findings make those organizations better, and that in turn makes the food we eat and drink safer.
All of us, in and out of the quality field, owe you all a debt of gratitude for all you do to keep us healthy. The work you do is honorable, necessary, and incredibly meaningful for billions of eaters just like me. Thank you from the bottom of my stomach!
P.S… if you want to learn more about this topic, keep on the lookout for Exemplar Global’s Food Safety Expo coming up in early February. Details coming soon.
About the author
Mike Richman is the principal of Richman Business Media Consulting, a marketing and public relations company working with clients in the worlds of manufacturing, consumer products, politics, and education. Richman also hosts the web television program NorCal News Now, which focuses on social, economic, and political issues in California. He is a contributor to (and former publisher of) Quality Digest.