As part of our ongoing expert Q&A series, a conversation with Mark Jarvis, CEO of Steritech Group, on auditing challenges, food safety incentives, and supply chain woes

Mark Jarvis knows food safety from the bottom of the supply chain

to the top. As CEO of Steritech Group, a leader in food safety and quality assurance consulting and auditing, Jarvis oversees around 100,000 food

safety inspections annually for many of the leading supermarkets, restaurants, hotels,

contract caterers, and food manufacturers. Food Safety News recently sat down with Jarvis to discuss the realities of the food safety system.

Part I

Q: Let’s talk about food safety audits, what are the biggest problems you encounter?


Manufacturers, if given the opportunity, will choose cheap and easy

over expensive and rigorous–especially when it comes to certification


All auditors certified under SQF standards are not created equal.


first thing manufacturers do is pick up the phone and start calling

around.  There are some certifying bodies who will say “I’ll tell you

what, we’ll do it in one or two days, we’ll knock it out, it wont be

traumatic, and we’ll be able to get you your certification.”


the other hand, there are certifying bodies who want to do the right

thing–provide dependable audits; audits that are rigorous,

comprehensive, accurate, and consistent.  Audits which are harder to

pass and more expensive.

Then of course, unless prevented from

doing so, the manufacturer can shop around for another audit if they

find that the audit does not go as well as expected. There is just too

much leeway.

Across the entire spectrum–from the giant food

producers to the micro producers–everyone needs to step up and realize

they have commitment to consumers to produce food that’s safe.  Across

the board we need to get more serious.

Q: What do you think it would take for companies to get serious?


I think there are a number of different factors shaping the industry. 

I think that the legislative effort is important.  I think that a

reorganization of the agencies makes sense to me–I don’t know how you

can argue against that.

Whether you’re for regulation or

against, if there is going to be regulation we want then those

resources are going to be deployed in a way that makes sense.  We need

a highly organized and concentrated effort that achieves its

objectives.  We don’t have that today.  I also think that the legal

system will help move things in the right direction.  The cost of

outbreaks, to the manufacturers and the industry as a whole runs into

the billions of dollars.

Lastly, I think that consumers, who are

now more informed than ever and have higher expectations than ever,

will gravitate towards brands they know and trust. That makes it

critical for big brands to get their house in order, and it is the big

brands that can do more than anyone to address the problem.

Regarding the legislative effort, on a positive note, I do think it will help bring about minimum standards. 

Q: Are there other countries you think we should model after?


I can’t tell you that I am an expert on that, but I can tell you that

Europe is far ahead of us. They are more willing to accept harmonized

standards and have been more ready to adopt formal food safety

practices as a business imperative.  Japan too has very high standards

in this area; there are a number of areas in the world that do it

better than we do.

There are countries where there are very

significant economic consequences for not getting their act together.

For example, Chile and Chilean wine, that industry would be crushed if

they were perceived to have problems.  It has the potential to be very

detrimental to their entire economy.  In those instances governments

have really gotten involved and become organized, they’ve gotten

industry and trade organizations all on the same page–which is


I’m not sure that there is a single model we can use, but there are certainly lessons that can be learned from around the world.

See Food Safety News tomorrow for Part II of our discussion.