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What’s a Third Party Audit?

Part 4 of a 5-part series:

Since we have already had some discussions about Second Party Audits as well as Internal Audits, we thought it would be a good idea to ask our Board Certified Entomologist, Hope Bowman, all about Third Party Audits. A Third Party Audit is done by an organization with no ties to either the plant they are auditing or the vendor that is asking for it to be audited – so it is as unbiased as possible. Mostly done for purposes of certification, these audits primarily put as much stress on a plant’s Food Safety Plan to make sure it can stand up to it all stressors. Although, that’s pretty elementary. To get to the core of a Third Party Audit, we asked Hope some questions about the process.

Q: Hope – thank you yet again for sitting down with us. So, we know Second Party Audits are requested by clients and Internal Audits are really done by the plant itself, but why would a Third Party be done in the first place?

A: A Third Party Audit is often used to certify that the business is meeting a set criteria that is consistent between types of plants. For example, a Distribution Warehouse, regardless of the type of food that is being distributed, will need a sanitation program, a Food Safety Plan, a security plan, etc. Let’s say a pasta business has their pasta stored in distribution warehouses in Worcester, MA, Newark, NJ, and Philadelphia, PA. It may be cost-prohibitive to hire an employee to perform Second Party Audits of those warehouses, but using warehouses that are certified by a third party will assure that the same quality is provided.

Q: Thank you for explaining that. How would a plant prepare for a Third Party Audit?

A: The first step to prepare for a Third Party Audit is to acquire the auditing specification from the auditing body. Then, go through the criteria step by step and determine which areas the plant has a good handle on and what changes and adjustments need to be made and where. Create a timeline for when each change will be put in place. For example, let’s assume the auditing specifications require weekly pest service and currently you have twice a month visits. You will need to put in a plan to increase that service and show the service frequency was increased using service documentation to the Third Party Auditor. Once all of the changes and adjustments are made, then you will likely need a few months of the plan working to make adjustments and also to document that the plan is adequate.

Q: That is excellent information! So, lastly, the scariest question of all. What if a plant fails a Third Party Audit? What can be done?

A: If a plant fails a Third Party Audit, they stand to lose a lot, including customers. So, that’s why measures such as Internal Audits are put in place, to prevent this from happening. If a plant is prepared and audited themselves, it is less likely that at the end of a Third Party Audit, there will be corrective actions to be made. It is also possible that a plant could not meet the level of certification that was expected, in which case improvements will need to be made. The next step would be to make a plan with the team onsite for the corrective actions that need to be made and the continuous improvements needed to meet the higher level of certification.

This seems like just the details a Sanitarian or Quality Manager would need because if you’re in the industry, you know audits will always be a part of your job. It’s a good thing, though, because they ensure that our food is safely produced, warehoused, and transported.

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