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Friday, 18 December 2015

The Food Safety Certification Debate

You are invited to join this debate.


The Debate Topic
Whereas the food industry actively encourages third party certification, in the matter of assuring the safety of food, be it resolved that third party certificates are useless.

Pick your side and join. You may argue for or against any point raised, or raise another point. It should be clear from your argument if you are for or against the stated resolution:


US Food Study

Ogunranti: I disagree that a third party certification is a waste.

Felix: I maintain that third party certification is a waste. Some things may be gained from the process and related interaction. However, what is gained cannot be credited exclusively to the certification process as if to say what is gained is not possible without the process. In other words, without certification, operations are able to achieve even more with less resource expenditure and, possibly, less stress. Third party certification is also a waste because the certificate is the first thing to be discarded as soon as an undesirable incident that relates to the claim of the certificate is encountered. Also, those who issue the certificates do not stand by its claim without some attending disclaimers. The points listed under Undeniable Facts remain true.

Ogunranti: Third party audits help to keep quality in focus,

Felix: Incidentally, many operations involuntarily enlist in third party audit programs only because it is demanded by their customers. The reluctance is because they feel they are already focusing on meeting the customers’ needs for safe and quality products. Therefore they see third party audits as being redundant. Where the enlisting is voluntary (albeit blindly), it is driven by the focus on product safety and quality that the operation should already have.Otherwise, they cannot even be "certified". They would fail without that focus. If they already have the focus, then certification is redundant. The point about third party audits helping to keep quality in focus is moot from every perspective. If the safety and quality of products are not already and always in focus for an operation even before enlisting in a third party audit program, how can these be expected to remain in focus after the auditor has left the scene which, more often than not, is the case? On the other hand, if the safety and quality of products are always in focus while the auditor is not present, why is the auditor needed to keep quality in focus?

Ogunranti: . . . audits help to increase knowledge because new ideas can be shared.

Felix: . . . but so much more knowledge is available and, in many instances free of charge. Besides, the knowledge brought by the auditor is limited by that fact. The auditor is one person with only one person’s knowledge. The auditor also does not have intimate knowledge of the operations audited. The person with less relevant knowledge should not normally be expected to help people with more relevant knowledge gain more of that knowledge. The operation has a team. Also, the same set of requirements that the auditor reads to perform the assessment is the same set that is already available to the operation’s management team. If the team cannot interpret the requirements, how can they be expected to implement programs that meet them (the requirements)? If the team is that ignorant about the operation and must rely on the knowledge of one person from outside, should that team be running the operation?

Ogunranti: Don't also forget, third party certifications can help your products!

Felix: I am still wondering how a third party certification helps my products when, under the guise of not being a consulting activity, the process of certification offers no concrete help. Auditors offer criticisms but no definite solutions because that would go against their "conflict of interest rules". If the solution is left up to me in this manner, how does that help me any more than I can already help myself?

Ogunranti: Some organisations won't do business with you unless they are sure you are safety compliant in food.

Felix: I agree. It is a shame to see this kind of blindness that has overtaken those organizations. Not all organizations are remaining blind to the facts. Many are insisting on separate audit arrangements besides the third-party certification craze. Any organization that bases its confidence in a supplier's product on the results of a snapshot third-party audit, needs to re-examine the realities a bit more closely:
Read more here:

Ogunranti: Now to the main reason, if you do all it takes to put your product in order, have great team, avoid contamination and ensure proper control points, you still need a neutral party to ascertain your efforts are effective.

Felix: No! I do not need a neutral party. I need the actual product evaluation results to ascertain the effectiveness of the efforts being made to ensure the safety and quality of the products offered for sale. You actually left out the usually common argument that “it is always good to have a different set of eyes looking at things” In response I would say: The internal team already has many different sets of eyes that know more intimately the weak points to check. An outside neutral party can only come with a generalized and theoretical knowledge that may not be relevant to the immediate experiences and surroundings of the operation. The internal team should already have the knowledge that the neutral party brings. Otherwise, how does the team know if the operation is ready for the neutral assessment? On the other hand, if the team does not know whether or not the operation is ready, should this team be running the operation?

Ogunranti: You cannot implement your own plans and still be the one to ascertain it's effectiveness.

Felix: I very much hope (for the sake of my safety and satisfaction) that the producers of the food products that I buy can "ascertain" the effectiveness of their own food safety and quality control measures and plans before they ship their products into the market. I would certainly do this if I was selling a food product. In fact, I would ignore the snapshot 3rd party certification audit results and ascertain the effectiveness of my control measures daily as it were; instead of once or twice, or even three times per year as is the case with the best of 3rd party certification arrangements.

Ogunranti: You cannot be your own judge.

Felix: . . . but you are your own judge every day that the auditor is not at your premises. You are making judgment calls every day as to whether you will or will not ship products depending on your assessment (or audit if you will) of the safety and quality performance of the products. This is where the judgment calls really matter. Few third-party audits/auditors actually sample the product outputs, assess them against the established specifications and judge them fit or unfit for sale. In other words many (if not all current) third-party audits and the subsequent certifications do not assess the actual outcomes. So what exactly are they judging that is of immediate significance to the outcome?

Ogunranti: . . . third party certifications help a lot

Felix: Are you able to quantify the “a lot”? Those offering these certifications have yet to publish any quantifiable data that categorically show how much food safety and quality problems were encountered before certification and how much reduction in such problems have been seen after the certifications. The statistics that they often share about how many operations have enlisted and how many certificates have been issued and in how many countries are useless in terms of the intended goal. The ultimate goal of the certification process, which is to reduce food safety and quality related problems, are not reflected in those statistics.
Take a look at the certifications listed for the company with the top listed outbreak involving 4 deaths and 838 sickened – Certifications List

A strong argument in favor of food safety certification is presented in this article:
Food Safety is Good for Business
Features - Business Management
US Foods Study Proves Economic Benefits
By Lisa Lupo, March 31, 2015

Felix: A very rosy picture in support of certification that may fool some people is presented in this article. I am not fooled. Here are some questions to consider:
  1. What has the trend been since 2011, has it been steadily improving or fluctuating?
  2. Were the gains made even because of certification, considering that most businesses work to improve their operations anyway?
  3. Can it be conclusively claimed that similar results were impossible without certification?
  4. Could following guidelines such as the WHO CODEX food safety guidelines, a nation’s regulatory food safety guidelines or even a properly and consistently implemented pre-requisite and HACCP programs without certification produce similar results?
  5. Without certification, could similar results be achieved through following proven management principles such as: TQM (Total Quality Management); Six Sigma; 5 or 6-S {Sorting, Stabilizing or Straightening, Sweeping or Shining, Standardizing, Sustaining the Practice with Safety (of personnel) included in the case of 6-S} system;  the SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat) analysis; FMEA (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis) model; Lean Manufacturing approaches?
  6. Would there be a relapse to worse results if the certification process ceases but established food safety policies, programs and procedures are maintained?
Any food business that feels lost without certification is a food business that is lost. Ask Bill Marleif any food safety certificate has prevented lawsuits.

Felix: Certification is a proof that indicts more that it acquits where the certified party fails to live up to what certification implies or represents.

Felix: While the cover-up powers of the 3rd-party "food safety certificate" is enjoyed by suppliers who wish to cover things up, it punishes the unsuspecting customer who insists on remaining in the tunnel and failing to see the whole world outside. 


  1. I agree 100% in relation to #8. We are our own judge for 99% of the time. A third party certification only fulfils the needs of the certifier and those (customers) who hold it as a means to confirm that certain standards have been met. On all other points I am somewhat split in my thinking but may lean slightly more toward for rather than against.

    1. With the mounting evidence, it is tough to argue against the resolve that third party food safety certificates are useless. While the idea of having standards for measuring success is age-old and good, the certification direction is so superficial that it is somewhat fraudulent.