The frequency of official controls should not be reduced solely based on the existence of a certified food safety management system (FSMS), according to a recent report on a study.

Results from 1,484 official inspections of 110 Finnish sites covering slaughterhouses, other meat establishments, fish and milk plants, and bakeries with and without a certified FSMS were studied from 2016 to 2018. Overall, 59 had a certified FSMS and 51 did not.

A comparison of scores between sites with and without a certified FSMS found only minor differences. Results indicated an “inconsistent” influence of certified FSMSs on compliance among different establishment types and inspected items, according to the study in the journal Food Control.

Food businesses are subject to official controls such as inspections by national authorities to ensure compliance with food safety legislation. Some firms have implemented voluntary food safety management systems based on international standards such as ISO 22000 or BRC. A third-party organization carries out certification audits to check whether the FSMS used by a company complies with the standard and issues a certificate if it does.

Limited differences between those with and without FSMS
In the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark, FSMSs can reduce official control inspections. Repeated high compliance with food safety legislation leads to a decreased inspection frequency in the Finnish system.

Researchers said a food firms’ inspection frequency should be judged by local control authorities rather than by general guidelines related to the presence of an FSMS.

Altogether, 14,356 scores were given to 87 different items during the inspections. The study revealed that certified food establishments had better scores in 15 items, so for most compliance did not differ.

The number of some establishment types in the research was relatively small but the aim was to compare factories of the same type and production output.

Certified meat plants had better scores in eight items such as cleanliness and general compliance of own-check requirements, but for working hygiene of staff the scores were better in non-certified meat sites. Non-compliances affecting food safety were discovered in both certified and non-certified meat establishments.

The analysis suggests a positive association between the FSMS and compliance in bakeries. Milk establishments, both certified and non-certified, showed high compliance.

Impact of third-party management systems
Another paper, based on Dutch data, has found businesses with third-party management systems perform better than non-certified sites.

Data covers audit results of food businesses for 2015 to 2020 that are monitored by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA). It revealed an average of 3,300 inspections per year from 14,000 industrial business-to-business and cold store food companies.

In total, 3,118 inspected businesses were certified to BRCGS, 4,083 to other GFSI programs, and 12,941 were not certified to one of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) third-party certification programs.

On average across the period, 25 percent of food firms were subject to regulatory action including 28.5 percent without certification, and 23.1 percent with certification.

For microbiological issues, certification is associated with a lower probability that regulatory action will be required. Intervention was needed for an average of 8.3 percent of industrial business-to-business and cold store firms. For certified companies, this reduced to 5.8 percent.

Concerning hygiene, certified B2B and cold stores were less likely to face an intervention. A total of 19.8 percent of non-certified businesses were subject to a remedial visit, compared to 13.1 percent of firms with certification.

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