Professionals in the food safety auditing arena are exercising practical application of the old adage if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem with the launch of a credentialing program.

The course work and independent exam have been in the work for six years and will debut at the 2017 Food Safety Summit next month. It’s a classic example of industry policing itself.

“One of the biggest complaints in the food industry about auditors is that it’s been like playing whack a mole to get rid of the bad ones,” said Patricia Wester, a former auditor who now owns PA Wester Consulting. “You identify them at a company and get them out, only to find they have gone to work at another company. They just keep popping back up.”

Patricia Wester and Robert Thrash are scheduled as the instructors for the auditor training course at the Food Safety Summit.
Patricia Wester and Robert Thrash are scheduled as the instructors for the auditor training course at the Food Safety Summit.

Wester, who started out in the meat industry before moving into the auditing sector, is one of two instructors for food safety auditor training certification course being offered May 8 and 9 at the Food Safety Summit in the Stephens Convention Center in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont.

Along with Wester, Robert Thrash, president of Process Management Consulting, is scheduled to provide instruction during the auditor training course.

The course curriculum was developed by the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), an 80-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to improving professional standards in environmental health and therefore enhancing public health.

“One reason it’s taken six years to develop is because it’s complex and there is not a lot of material already out there to draw from,” said TJay Gerber, credentialing manager for NEHA.

Wester said while the Food Safety Modernization Act signed into law in 2011 includes auditors in its preventive approach to improving the nation’s food safety, federal law is short on specifics. Federal code defines an auditor as a “qualified individual… who has the education, training, or experience — or a combination thereof — necessary to manufacture, process, pack, or hold clean and safe food as appropriate to the individual’s assigned duties.

She said it’s not realistic to think that the Food and Drug Administration could conduct the audits similar to the way the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has inspectors on duty in every single slaughter operation.

“Meat has thousands of facilities,” Wester said, “but the FDA has hundreds of thousands of registered food facilities. There’s really no way for FDA to fund site auditors for all of them.”

The credentialing program from NEHA includes two tiers:

  • Certified in Food Safety Supplier Audits (CFSSA) status will prepare individuals for first- and second-party audits and can be a career path to becoming a third-party auditor; and
  • Registered Food Safety Auditor (RFSA) status is for more experienced food safety professionals, who are one of the last lines of defense in the complex global food supply chain.

NEHA exam for auditorsCertificates of completion, which will be given to everyone completing the auditor training course at the Food Safety Summit, are from the new Association for Food Safety Auditing Professionals Auditor Academy.

People who complete the course at the summit have the option to take the NEHA credential exam on May 10 at the summit, if they apply by April 10. Wester said some people may prefer to take the course and then log real-world experience before taking the exam.

The exam, developed by NEHA with the help of professional test developers, is a proctored exam that takes three hours.

The CFSSA credential is awarded for a period of two years. To remain certified, credential holders must meet the renewal requirements. Renewal requirements are based on the philosophy of continued competence, and as such, credential holders must meet the renewal requirements. Credential holders must:

  • Earn and submit a minimum of 24 hours of continuing education every two years; and
  • Submit renewal fees for your credential every two years, which are $145 for members and $365 for non-members; and
  • Agree to continue to abide by and uphold the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct Policy and the policies of the credential program, which includes continued appropriate and authorized use of the certificate, logo, and marks.

Early-bird registration discounts for the Food Safety Summit are available until April 15.

Anyone interested in taking the NEHA exam for the Certified in Food Safety Supplier Audits credential at the summit but apply by April 10. To apply to take the exam, should visit the NEHA website for additional application details.

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