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Saturday, 22 November 2014

Food Safety in Search of the Most Suitable and Neutral Third Party

Organizations or groups involved in corroborative assessment of food safety, but do not engage directly in the production, processing or sales of food products are often referred to as third parties. This reference is most predominantly used in connection with audits conducted to verify the effectiveness of food safety, quality system and regulatory compliance. Third parties are also involved in other aspects that contribute to the assurance of food safety by providing, associated functions. These include laboratory and pest control services, scientific information sources, operation guidelines development, consulting services, education, training, et cetera.

Parties involved in the production, processing or sales of food products are typically described as first or second parties. In order to avoid biases due to the obvious commercial interests, members of this group are often precluded from providing corroborating evidence about the strength or effectiveness of the food safety programs implemented by other members of this group. Customers may assess suppliers directly and many do. However, such assessments tend to become excessively burdensome to suppliers with many customers. Hence the presumed need for third-party audits that are acceptable to all customers. Reported experiences and practices often prove otherwise. 

The need for third parties to provide any desired corroborating evidence is generally considered to be essential for business transactions within the food industry. Third parties occupy a supposedly neutral position from which to advise the major commercial players - major retailers and consumers. This, the industry feels, removes biases that may interfere with the integrity of the evidence provided. Through the process of audits typically conducted at the facilities of suppliers, the third parties are thought to be in a better (non-biased) position to advise the suppliers, customers and consumers about the integrity, completeness, consistency and effectiveness of the food safety and quality assurance programs implemented throughout the supply chain. Some, if not most, of the third-party assessment setups currently on the market involve as follows:
  • Third-party auditors or assessors are paid by the companies that they audit.
  • Although they may provide advice in general terms that often end up confusing the people advised, third-party auditors or assessors do not provide specific help because that may be viewed as conflict-of-interest consulting services.
  • The audited parties are expected to already know and are often viewed as being already capable of implementing what is assessed. Essentially, the audited parties pay third-party auditors to tell them (the audited parties) what they already know and/or show them what they can already implement (and must implement) on their own.
  • Third-party auditors or assessors do not offer any guarantees because it remains the responsibility of each audited party to know and implement effective food safety measures that are applicable to its operation.
Some commentators have expressed concerns about some of the things involved in the typical setups: Observations about Third Party Audits. Some of these commentators may like to see the involvement of only suitable and neutral third parties taking up the role of providing unbiased evaluation and certification of suppliers. But which groups qualify?

A Qualification Scorecard for some of the Major Third-Party Groups

Among the groups that could qualify as third parties, we have:
  1. The World Health Organization
  2. The World Trade Organization
  3. The International Accreditation Forum
  4. Global Food Safety Initiative
  5. Certification Bodies
  6. Accreditation Bodies
  7. Government Regulators
  8. Independent consultants
  9. Educational and training Institutions
  10. Operation-Related Service Providers (including Auditing Companies and Auditors)
To qualify as a suitable and neutral third party that issues certification, the group or organization is expected to have no business interest or direct gains from its interaction with the first and second parties within the industry. Preferably, the most suitable and neutral third party would have a humanitarian commitment with no commercial (i.e. profit-making) or favour-seeking interest. If an organization or group receives fees from, sells anything to, or supports paid membership of companies or businesses belonging to the first and second group, that organization technically no longer qualifies as a neutral third party certification body. The truly neutral party with respect to food safety and quality certification or accreditation should have no check mark under any of the columns to the right of the column that indicates its certifying or accreditation role (i.e. no check mark under fees, sales or paid membership).

Name the Most Suitable and Neutral Third Party:
From this list, which group is (or groups are) most suitable to issue food safety certification to individual companies as far as you are able to tell? You may download the MS Word version of the chart below.

Has Humanitarian Commitment
Has FSQS Certification/
Accreditation Role
Paid Membership
The World Health Organization (WHO)
The World Trade Organization (WTO)
The International Accreditation Forum (IAF)
Accreditation Bodies

Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)
FSQS/GFSI Scheme Owners
Certification Bodies
Private Auditing Companies and Auditors
Government Regulators
Independent Consultants
Educational and training Institutions
Operation-Related Service Providers (laboratories and other contracted services)
OTHER(s) [Describe in the rows below]:
Posted by Felix Amiri
Felix Amiri is currently the chair of GCSE-Food & Health Protection, and a sworn SSQA advocate.

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