The draft of BRC Issue 8 required our food safety consultants to be approved, as a service provider. Although Issue 8 took it out again, it’s still a worthwhile exercise, so let’s look at what that means…
The draft clause 188.8.131.52 said…
“There shall be a documented procedure for the approval and monitoring of suppliers of services. Such services should include:
food safety consultants.”
An additional element has also been added to the clause that says…
“This approval and monitoring process shall be risk-based and shall take into consideration:
risk to the safety and quality of products
compliance with any specific legal requirements
potential risks to the security of the product (i.e. risks identified in the vulnerability and food defence assessments).”
If you think about it, your food safety consultant is a high-risk service provider. You employ them to help you to do things right and meet the standards, so if they’re not good at it, the consequences can be devastating. I’ve had quite a few personal experiences lately, where clients have come to us to help them, because their current or previous food safety consultant hasn’t provided them with the service they need.
Finding a really good food safety consultant isn’t easy. Firstly, there aren’t many of them out there and secondly, if you’re employing one – you are doing it, because you need their specialist expertise. How are you meant to know if they are good at what they do?
There are food safety consultants out there that will get you through an audit, because they’re experts in getting through an audit and ‘talking the talk’. Which is fine, but that doesn’t mean that your systems are robust and really do, what they say on the tin. BRC standards are there to protect us, not to just pass an audit. So, how do you find a good consultant and what do you look for when approving them? Here are a few things you should look for.
Things to look for when hiring a food safety consultant…
- This seems obvious, but there are a few things you need to look for, that make all the difference. A consultant should be an expert in their field. This means they should have the very best qualifications in their field.
- A food safety consultant should have HACCP Level 4 and also Food Safety Level 4. Level 3 isn’t good enough. And, this is important – they should have done this recently! Standards have changed massively in just the last few years, so doing a qualification in the 1990’s doesn’t really cut it anymore.
- Also, don’t accept certificates of attendance. You need a certificate that proves that they completed and passed a test. Attending a course doesn’t make you qualified.
- Those that are really good at what they do, won’t need to have a recent qualification, as they practise it every day, but the problem is – you won’t be able to assess their ability, so if in doubt you really need to go with a qualification.
- They should also have a qualification in the standard that they are going to help you with. So, if you’re working to BRC, then they should have a BRC qualification. Preferably the full 5-day course. If you’re working to food, then they must have the food BRC certificate. As storage and distribution and packaging standards are a spin off from food, they should either have the food certificate OR the specific BRC certificate.
- Ask for references. Any good consultant will have lots of clients that are happy to give you a reference. If they don’t then there’s something wrong.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for references and make sure you follow-up on them.
- Beware if they’re readily available.
- I know when you need something, you tend to need it now. It’s normal. But be aware, if you call a consultant and they are free to see you straight away, this isn’t always a good sign.
- If they’re good, then they will be busy.
Too good to be true?
- When it sounds too good to be true – it usually is!
- Employing the services of a food safety consultant is a two-way exercise; a partnership. They bring their expertise, but you still need to get involved. You need to get involved in setting up the systems, because you need to make sure they happen every day, if they’re going to work properly.
- If a consultant says to you, that they can do it all for you and get you through the audit (without you having to do much or even be there), then this is a big no, no.
- Your consultant needs someone to work with while they’re at site. Don’t leave them on their own, you need to be with them – to learn from them.
- Ask for evidence.
- Ask them to show you a piece of their work. A good consultant will write procedures which look professional, don’t contain spelling or grammar mistakes and – this is really important – you should be able to pick a procedure up, read it and understand it. If when you’re read it, you still don’t know what you need to do, well – then it’s not that good, is it?
- Ask for a contract or agreement in writing.
- Now, with Issue 8, you need to have a formal agreement with your consultant. It needs to detail what they’re going to do for you as a minimum.
- If you carry out performance reviews with your full-time employees, why not do this with your consultant? It’s a great opportunity if you do it each year, to establish what you want to work on in the next year and review if you achieved what you set out to do last year.
The role of Food Safety Consultant is crucial to the food safety success of your business, it needs careful thought and I hope I’ve given you some pointers on what to think about. If you have anything else you can add, that will help everyone to make sure that they pick the right consultant, we’d love to hear what you think – just add your comments to the reply box below.
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