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Pundit’s Mailbag —
Auditor Qualification And Certification

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, January 23, 2007

One thing all the food safety proposals being discussed involve is the use of auditors. Our piece Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Safety Audits And Government Oversight dealt with the proposal to set up a new state-run audit function in California. Some readers thought this an excellent place to kick off a discussion on the subject of auditor qualification and certification:

Your “Food Safety Audits And Government Oversight” exchange with an auditor provides a good forum to start the much needed dialogue on the subject of audits and auditors. There are certainly pros and cons to discuss regarding private-sector vs. public-sector auditors. One key item that has been missing in the ongoing food safety discussions is who certifies the auditors?

Right now there is no governance structure and corresponding policies in place for issues such as quality assurance of auditor personnel and processes; and handling disputes between auditors and auditees. These are just two of the many issues that any quality accreditation systems would address. There are private-sector, public-sector and nonprofit/trade associate-sector examples of accreditation — the first issue is accreditation of auditors, the second issue is private-sector, public-sector and/or nonprofit/trade association entities conducting the audits.

— Jeff Dlott, Ph.D.
SureHarvest
Soquel, California

Jeff’s letter is incisive and raises a key point:

Right now there is no governance structure and corresponding policies in place for issues such as quality assurance of auditor personnel and processes; and handling disputes between auditors and auditees. These are just two of the many issues that any quality accreditation systems would address.

What we really need is two organizations: first something comparable to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), a national, professional organization for CPAs. Among its objectives:

CERTIFICATION AND LICENSING

Seeks the highest possible level of uniform certification and licensing standards and promotes and protects the CPA designation.

It was the founding of the AICPA that really helped create a true profession:

The AICPA was founded in 1887 and upon its creation, established Accountancy as a profession distinguished by rigorous educational requirements, high professional standards, a strict code of professional ethics, a licensing status, and a commitment to serving the public interest.

In addition, we need an organization similar to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, whose mission is as follows:

The mission of the Financial Accounting Standards Board is to establish and improve standards of financial accounting and reporting for the guidance and education of the public, including issuers, auditors, and users of financial information.

Now it is not that nobody has been thinking of this subject. In the very first letter of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, the buyers wrote:

The standardized requirements will be translated into standardized audit criteria and such audits could be performed by private and/or federal/state auditors. A certification program shall be in place to assure private auditors are calibrated and perform inspections/reviews in accordance to the established standards.

Yet this isn’t something produce associations can or should take on. First there is liability and that scares people off but, more importantly, why should produce vendors certify food safety auditors? They have no expertise in this area. It makes no sense.

In fact only a professional body, such as what the accountants have, makes sense for this rapidly growing profession.

Of course there would be legislative initiatives in each state to codify the professional standards much as there are laws preventing one from practicing medicine without a license.

Much appreciation to Jeff for reminding us that no standard that depends on auditing will be better than the auditors we have.

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