The Value of Third Party Audits


Separating Compliance From Complacence

Would you purchase a meat or poultry item at a restaurant or supermarket because it’s promoted as “Meets Minimum Safety Standards”? Of course not!

Consumers expect the beef, poultry and pork products they buy to be safe, and a USDA Inspected label is supposed to prove it. But it’s not a differentiator or a selling point.

“The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service’s main focus is on the safety of meat and poultry products, not the quality,” explained Adam Miller, Vice President of Technical Services at Bridgeview, Ill.-based Stampede Meat. “It sets general rules and regulations for sanitation and food safety. For example, the USDA requires all meat and poultry suppliers to follow the seven principles of HACCP when developing their food safety programs. How they do it is up to them, as long they meet the regulations.”

For instance:

9 CFR Ch. III (1–1–14 Edition)

  • 416.5 Employee hygiene.
    • (a) Cleanliness. All persons working in contact with product, food-contact surfaces, and product-packaging materials must adhere to hygienic practices while on duty to prevent adulteration of product and the creation of insanitary conditions.

In other words, USDA approval of a packaged protein product means the supplier has met the regulatory requirements set out by the USDA.

Adding Value Across the Food Chain

“That’s why many of our food service and retail customers, both direct purchasers and distributors, require third party audits of both our raw facility and cook plant at least yearly — and we require the same from our own raw material suppliers,” Miller said. Along with mandatory daily inspection by the USDA, Stampede food safety and quality programs and facilities are audited eight times or more annually by different third parties.

Stampede finds voluntary independent audits and certification to be of great value, both as a learning tool and a way to separate the company from other meat processors as an industry leader in food safety and quality. Audits ensure that Stampede’s processes, personnel and facilities conform to the industry’s highest standards. This tangible evidence of Stampede’s commitment to food safety and quality benefits their suppliers, buyers and consumers by:

  • Ensuring that customers have the utmost confidence in Stampede’s food safety program and supply chain management.
  • Helping to reduce waste, complaints, recalls and the need to reject products.
  • Establishing best practices to produce safe products that meet the high quality levels expected by their customers.
  • Managing costs by eliminating redundancy and improving operational efficiency.
  • Developing competencies and capacity building in food safety to create consistent and effective food systems that set them apart from the others in the industry.

Putting Policy Into Practice

Accredited auditing companies include BRC and SQF, which audit to GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) recognized schemes, and others, like Silliker, which perform Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and Food Safety System audits. These companies review each audit standard line by line to make sure GMPs, food safety standards and quality programs are in place and are being properly followed and met.

Audit components include: documentation review, plant floor time to verify the written programs and procedures are being followed, and employee interviews from key departments regarding their responsibilities to quality and food safety. For instance, here are just two of ten standards covered in a BRC audit under Staff Facilities to ensure that USDA guidelines for employee hygiene are put into practice at a plant:

  • Storage facilities of sufficient size to accommodate personal items shall be provided for all personnel who work in raw material handling, preparation, processing, and packing and storage areas.
  • Outdoor clothing and other personal items shall be stored separately from work wear within the changing facilities. Facilities shall be available to separate clean and dirty work wear.

Depending on the size and complexity of the facility, an audit can take from 8–11 hours to 3–5 days. Audited suppliers may be ranked on a point or grade system and a summary is made available for their customers.

Stampede has been audited to GFSI recognized schemes for the last seven years, the past three under the BRC Global Standards — a leading safety and quality certification program and a recognized standard throughout the world. Both the Stampede Meat raw facility and cook plant have received an ‘A’ score from BRC each time.

“Audits show where a supplier stands amongst its competitors and whether it goes above and beyond USDA regulations to protect its brand and its customers’ brands,” said Miller. “It’s a neutral set of eyes to let us know how we’re doing and provides valuable feedback and new opportunities to improve.”