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ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: You, Pests, and a Food Safety Audit
Know the basics of GFSI, SQF, and BRC
by Zia Siddiqi, PhD
Audit. It’s not a word many like to hear, but audits are necessary to maintain food safety within any food processing business. When audit is paired with pests, however, the association is even more unfavorable.
Pests can carry and transmit disease-causing organisms, including E.coli, Salmonella, and Shigella, threatening food safety and product integrity. Just one pest can have an impact on your business, but an infestation can cripple your facility’s reputation and lead to:
- damage to raw materials and inventory;
- product loss;
- violation of health regulations;
- transmission of harmful diseases and food poisoning; and
- plant closure.
For these reasons, food safety auditors take pest control seriously, with pest management accounting for up to 20% of some third-party audit scores. Facilities seeking to earn or maintain certification should understand how pest management fits into keeping the food supply safe. Unfortunately, facilities often lose points on their audits for infractions that could have been avoided with a little preparation. The good news is that with the right preparation, your organization will be ready for the pest management portion of your next third-party audit.
Understand the Audit Process
As you may know, there are multiple audit standards. The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) framework, launched in Europe in May 2000, has recently taken on added importance. In 2008, Wal-Mart became the first nationwide U.S. grocer to adopt GFSI standards and mandated that its suppliers adhere to them.
GFSI does not undertake any accreditation or certification activities. However, the GFSI guidance document contains commonly agreed-upon criteria for food standards against which any food or farm assurance standard can be benchmarked.
In short, an organization complies with GFSI specification in the United States if it adheres to one of four standards:
- International Featured Standards (IFS), owned by German and French entities and developed for all types of retailers and for wholesalers with similar activities (www.food-care.info);
- Dutch Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) standards (www.foodsafetymanagement.info);
- Safe Quality Food (SQF) 2000-Level 3 standards, managed by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), which approves third-party auditors to perform certification audits (www.sqfi.com); and
- British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Standard for Food Safety; equivalent to FMI in the United States, BRC also approves third-party auditors (www.brc.org.uk).
Each of these standards has its own auditing rules. The BRC and SQF are typically the most comprehensive and relevant for U.S. food processors.
Just one pest can have an impact on your business, but an infestation can cripple your facility’s reputation.
Incomplete Documentation Often a Problem
Within the various food safety standards, there tend to be commonalities, particularly those related to pest management documentation. Incomplete or out-of-date documentation is the most common problem we find on the pest management portion of an audit. Both BRC and SQF outline in detail what should be documented:
- Written plans, based on an assessment of the facility. These outline the methods for development, implementation, and maintenance of the pest management program. This includes the methods used to prevent pest infestations in the first place. For example, SQF specifically outlines the inclusion of control measures for minimizing the risk of vermin in exterior areas and storage facilities. SQF takes it a step further by recommending that specific attention be paid to external and internal equipment storage locations (bone yards), and that weeds and waste be controlled to prevent the harborage and attraction of pests.
- Remediation efforts if pests are found. Examples of pest control application records are service reports, pesticide usage logs, pest sighting logs, corrective action reports, and trending of pest activity as documented by the service provider. Chemicals used must be listed and approved by the relevant authority, and their material safety data sheets (MSDS) must be accessible.
- Up-to-date site maps identifying the location of pest control devices, including those containing baits.
- Details of pest control products used and instructions for their effective use.
- Licenses and credentials of the pest control operator and a training schedule for people involved with pest control activities.
In conjunction with documentation, both BRC and SQF reference the partnership between the facility’s staff and a pest management professional. The partnership is proven through documented training efforts provided by the pest management professional to educate staff about components of the program.
Food safety auditors take pest control seriously, with pest management accounting for up to 20% of some third-party audit scores.
Differences Between BRC, SQF
Differences between the two programs can occur on some of the finer points, such as who is involved with the pest management program. BRC standards tend to be directed toward a facility with a pest management contractor, while the language in SQF standards is geared toward an in-house staff member who handles pest control. Since BRC focuses on a contractor relationship, the standards outline the need for senior management to review the pest management provider’s program.
This should be someone above the facility’s sanitarian, extending to the plant manager level or higher. BRC also requires that an audit of the pest management program be conducted by someone other than the technician, such as a supervisor or independent quality assurance staff member from the pest management company.
Again, while the similarities of the standards far outweigh their differences, it is essential to understand the details within the standards. For SQF, check out section 6.5; for BRC, read section 4.11. Also, review the National Pest Management Association’s standards for food processing plants, which were discussed in the April/May 2009 issue of Food Quality. These universal guidelines have been accepted by BRC, SQF, and GFSI.
For more audit tips, go to orkincommercial.com to view a new training video in which an Orkin pest management expert and a veteran NSF auditor guide you through the pest control portion of a third-party audit. You can also download a pre-audit checklist that outlines key milestones to prepare you for your next audit.
By preparing today and working with your pest control provider, you’ll lessen the anxiety that comes when you hear the words “audit” and “pests.” ■