Internal Retail Audits: A Tool to Help with Regulatory Inspections and Mitigate Food Safety Risks
Updated: Nov 22, 2018
Regulatory inspections at retail establishments have always played a very important role in protecting public health and preventing foodborne illness outbreaks. Plus, new developments in regulatory policy have made the results of inspections more accessible to the consumer through posted letter grades, news and internet coverage, and even searchable databases of licensed establishments, so good performance is even more important.
The 2017 FDA Food Code that is used as a model for retail food safety laws in most jurisdictions states that retail establishments should be inspected at least every six months unless they meet some specific exemptions. (2017 Food Code 8-401.10). However, local, tribal, and state inspectors often find themselves in a difficult situation of simply having too many establishments to inspect, and that frequency is not always met, and many of those inspectors will get even more busy as they are likely going to shoulder some of the inspections for FDA’s Produce Safety Rule.
For some, it may be a relief that regulatory inspections are often happening at a lower frequency, but it actually presents a recognizable risk. Imagine having an inspection that does not go well, and being required to post a poor score or grade in the front window of your restaurant for six months or more. That is not something that customers are very happy to see. Many retail establishments and companies are filling the void of regulatory inspections with internal audit programs that involve both auditors working for the company, and 3rd party auditors. These audits help measure stores to criteria that are specific to the establishment (which are often more stringent than the general Food Code requirements), identify food safety risks, and correct regulatory deficiencies before an actual inspection happens.
Furthermore, research titled “How Scheduling Can Bias Quality Assessment: Evidence from Food Safety Inspections” recently conducted at the Harvard Business School found that some simple scheduling changes to inspectors schedules could result in many more violations being found. The research gathered quantitative data from 12,017 inspections at restaurants, grocery stores, and schools conducted by 86 different inspectors over several years in Alaska, Illinois, and New Jersey, and is being looked at because the predicted result is 19 million less foodborne illnesses, nearly 51,000 less hospitalizations, and approximately $14 billion in foodborne illness costs saved each year.
It is inevitable that inspectors will always end up spending more time with some of the more difficult or risky operations in their area, but scaling the data nationwide, the research predicts approximately 240,999 additional violations being cited every year, which is an increase of 9.9 percent. Unfortunately, one of the biggest suggestions to improve inspections involves conducting less inspections in a day, or capping the number of inspections that can be done in one day, which would only exacerbate any issues with not meeting regulatory inspection frequencies. Imagine more violations with possibly even less frequent visits. Even as it is now, many jurisdictions are understaffed or underfunded, and it would be nearly impossible to increase the number of inspectors if they aren’t allowed to perform as many daily inspections.
Help oversee or part of the internal auditing program at your retail organization? Participate in TAG’s short online questionnaire. The goal of the survey is to help us learn more about how the retail industry is using audit programs to protect their customers, and their brand.
This quick 3-minute survey is geared towards assessing how retail establishments are leveraging audit programs to improve their food safety programs at an operational level. TAG will keep all individual answers completely confidential, and will be sharing a survey summary with all participants in the coming weeks. Along with a high-level summary to our newsletter subscribers.
The survey has closed August 13th – Thanks to those who participated!
About The Acheson Group (TAG)
Led by Dr. David Acheson, TAG is a food safety consulting group that provides guidance and expertise worldwide for companies throughout the food supply chain. With in-depth industry knowledge combined with real-world experience, TAG's team of food safety experts help companies more effectively mitigate risk, improve operational efficiencies, and ensure regulatory and standards compliance. Learn more at: www.AchesonGroup.com