Initially intended as a tool, a digression has occurred and several monotonous versions of the checklist are now slavishly used from audit to audit and from operation to operation. Checklists no longer serve, but are served by, the industry. The enslavement is further entrenched where dictatorial checklists are viewed as “standards”.
With the growing popularity of their use under the guise of “level playing fields”, monotonous checklists have flooded the market to undermine the very notion of level playing field. Although the field can never be leveled, this notion of “leveling the field for all operations” is applauded in many circles but it remains a myth. There has never been, and there will never be a level playing field. Other than serving as an unfortunate distraction, having a level playing field is not even necessary. I fully understand that this may seem to pose a challenge to the whole idea of equity and fairness in certification programs. In reality, it poses no challenge. The real common ground that matters with respect to food safety and quality management (with or without certification) is the goal of assuring consumer safety and satisfaction. This, by default, provides the equitable and sufficient ground for the assessment of different operations. It also provides the correct frame of reference.
Scheme owners attempt to revise audit checklists and guidelines from time to time. The attempts, in many cases, amount to no more than the re-naming, re-numbering, or re-grouping of previously stated requirements.
The agenda checklist does not need to have pre-set criteria for assessing the level of compliance and there is essentially no need for an audit guideline. The operation's program manual should already have all of the criteria for compliance assessment and the experienced auditor should be sufficiently competent to determine the acceptability or non-acceptability of audit observations.
The strategy and guidelines for the development of non-monotonous audit process is one of the areas where the SSQA concept is well ahead of its time: What Are You Missing?