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Importance of Supplier Audits in Food Safety Management

Importance of Supplier Audits in Food Safety Management


(CMA Testing and Certification Laboratories)

Managing food suppliers within the supply chain is essential for successful food safety management. Nowadays, a growing number of food retailers (including caterers), especially large and international ones (e.g. Walmart, McDonald, etc.) require their suppliers to meet specific requirements before adding them to the “Approved Supplier List”.


Creative Dining Services -

Essential Attributes of a First-rate Supplier

Many food manufacturers and farmers wish to become suppliers of large food companies. What are the attributes of being a first-rate supplier then?

According to B. Pourkomailian1 from McDonald’s Europe, a first-rate supplier shall:

1) Have good reputation

2) Share selecting organization’s values

3) Provide assured supply

4) Assure quality & safety of food

5) Have appropriately qualified personnel

6) Work under a good quality & food safety management system

1Bizhan Pourkomailian (2014). Food Safety Assurance Systems: Management of Supplier and Raw Materials. Encyclopedia of Food Safety, 4, 262-267.

Selection of a First-rate Supplier

Large food retailers usually evaluate the capabilities of their suppliers in management of food quality, safety and crisis (e.g. product traceability and recall), supplying safe raw materials / food products, meeting contractual requirements and complying with regulations & guidelines. Assessment criteria can be e.g. GFSI recognized food safety management schemes, HACCP, GMP, company-specific requirements, etc.

If a qualified supplier is selected, then sourcing problematic raw materials / food products at the early stage of food supply chain can be avoided. This helps to assure the quality and safety of final food products, and protect the brand and reputation of food retailers.

Second Party Audit on Supplier

Supplier assessment can be done by buyers themselves or an independent party on their behalf i.e. second party audit. Some food retailers prefer to use second party audit because this kind of supplier evaluation shall be more objective, impartial and independent. Moreover, some companies only have limited internal resources (time, money, qualified staff, etc.) for conducting supplier audit themselves. It will be more cost effective and efficient to employ an independent party to audit their local suppliers. This approach is particularly beneficial to the large food retailers with global suppliers.

Risk-based Management of Suppliers

Audit rating is a key factor used for selecting suppliers. On the other hand, some companies may also consider other factors e.g. country of manufacture, and certification held, etc.

After assigning weighing factors to different factors, a total risk score of a supplier can be calculated. The score determines the risk category where the supplier belongs to, and the relevant control measures.

Example – Risk-based Classification of Supplier


(Source: Metro Group - Presentation at the Global Food Safety Conference, 2015)

Generally speaking, the more risky a supplier is, the more frequent the supplier audit (including announced and unannounced ones) and lab testing of their products shall be conducted.

Strengthening Supplier Audit at Farm Level

In Hong Kong, some food retailers also find “supplier audit” important. However, it seems that most assessments focus on evaluation of food manufacturing plants rather than primary producers i.e. farmers.

Buyers may explain that they source food products from food manufacturers rather than from farmers direct. However, it should be noted that farm produce supplied to food manufacturing suppliers indeed determines the quality and safety of end products finally supplied to the food retailers. Those farmers are “indirect suppliers” indeed.

The best approach to manage food safety is always from farm to fork. If farmers are “direct suppliers”, food companies of course need to conduct on-site supplier audit periodically. If farmers are “indirect suppliers”, food retailers should also verify their food manufacturing suppliers do closely monitor those farmers. The farming practice and the farm environment should be satisfactory (e.g. meeting GAP requirements). On-site verification can either be done by the food retailers themselves or via a second party audit.