Food Safety Consulting
All organizations within the food supply chain are now able to implement standards regardless of company size or type. A food safety consultant can be an invaluable asset on the road to certification; providing a GAP Analysis, training and certification to an accredited food safety standard, as well as providing ongoing guidance and support to senior management, and offering cost-effective methods for achieving a standards scheme.
Each of the recognized food safety standards require a detailed, on site, third-party independent audit, carried out at least once per year. The purpose of this audit is to ensure that the proper systems are in place, monitored with accuracy and are effective in day-to-day operations or in times of crises. Some food safety consultants are able to offer auditing and certification services, but cannot offer both to an organization. It is considered a conflict of interest.
A food safety consultant can:
- Provide a GAP Analysis and pre-assessment to determine a company’s needs.
- Develop a written program, with input from all levels of the organization.
- Train staff in new policies and procedures, increasing their overall awareness.
- Improve upon existing food safety practices and procedures.
- Find solutions to challenges or barriers for implementing a standards scheme.
- Troubleshoot safety or food traceability issues within an organization’s operation.
- Set up documentation and proper record keeping procedures.
- Assist in the preparation for pre-audits and audits with a certified registrar.
- Provide ongoing support and new standards information as it evolves, specific to food categories and industry sectors.
- Source equipment, software and services such as food laboratory testing.
Different Kinds of Food Safety Consultants
Consultants can be part of a consultancy firm or self-employed, working as an Independent. There are benefits and advantages to employing either; for example, by engaging a large company you may have access to a wider variety of food safety consultants, able to offer a range of services to meet your overall business needs. An Independent food safety consultant is required to have experience in a specific food category or industry sector and may be able to provide greater insight into precise needs.
Choosing the right food safety consultant, whether an Independent or part of a corporation, is an important decision because you will rely heavily on the expertise and recommendations provided to ensure your business is food safety compliant.
A GAP Analysis is a tool to determine food safety risks within an organization. Whether the organization is a primary food producer, a food processor, a transportation company or a retailer, a GAP Analysis is generally the first step in the food safety certification process.
A Gap Analysis allows an organization to compare its current food safety practices against an accredited food safety management standard, and will identify areas of shortfall (the gaps). Once areas of improvement have been identified, changes can be made to improve not only food safety risks, but overall business performance; an important component for staying competitive in today’s marketplace, as well as reducing costly food recalls, and ensuring consumer protection and confidence.
The GAP Analysis can be conducted by a series of questionnaires or an assessment using a sampling technique. The method employed will depend on a number of factors, including the food safety consultant’s area of specialization and the specific requirements for implementing a particular food standard’s scheme.
An Independent or corporate consultant can assess existing management systems and procedures against the full requirements or revised changes of an existing food safety standard to create a unique compliance plan with the goal of certification. A compliance plan is a set of strategic steps that need to be taken for a business to be in “compliance” with a standard scheme, or to fill in the “gaps” identified by a GAP Analysis.
A Gap Analysis can also quickly determine the size and scope of a food safety certification project, allowing proper budgeting and time allotment for an organization’s management team and staff.
Your Business Partner: A Food Safety Consultant
Before retaining a consultant, consideration should be given to a number of factors, including budget, experience and expertise of the consultant. A food safety consultant can set appropriate expectations by managing the relationship with a communication plan, clearly identifying your business needs and determining the overall scope of the project.
A few additional items to consider:
- A food safety consultant should have a technical and practical knowledge of the specific industry sector or food category that your organization is involved in.
- The consultant should provide relevant information, such as years of experience and related training. They should also be able to provide numerous samples that demonstrate their clear understanding of the standards schemes that your organization wishes to implement. This could include HACCP, any of the GFSI standards, and more.
- Ensure the organization’s management team members and staff understand that this project is a priority, and that they have a responsibility to work in cooperation with the consultant, making themselves available when operation reviews or testing is required.
- Be certain that your food safety consultant has a complete list of resources and contacts within your organization so that he/she knows who to call when they require information.
- Allow your consultant to be part of the team and do not leave him/her out of meetings or information exchanges. Set aside staff time to support the consultant.
- Stay in touch and ask questions. Encourage the consultant to do the same.
- Provide space in your facility for your food safety consultant to work, at least one day a week, if possible. Some on-site visits will be required to conduct a GAP Analysis of your specific food safety needs and your staff will be able to offer valuable information on current practices.
- Agree on the frequency of progress reports and status meetings. Provide samples of reports or files used by other consultants that you felt were particularly helpful.
- Don’t assume the consultant knows everything; be very clear about expectations, writing everything down and meeting with the food safety consultant and their staff to be sure that all questions are answered before a project is started.
- Ask the consultant about their problem-solving skills and about contingency planning. Remember, things rarely go as planned and you want to know that the consultant can handle issues and keep things moving.
- Get references before you sign the contract and ask the consultant’s previous food safety clients about how they work, how effective their communication is and how well they interacted with staff.
- Decide what level of service you want and what you are willing to pay for. For example, will you need the consultant to implement a compliance plan and not simply perform a GAP Analysis? Will you need follow-up support or staff training programs? It is important to understand the full scope of needs now and into the future, so that the consultant you hire has a complete picture.
- While selecting the right food safety consultant is important, supporting the project’s success by being clear about expectations, understanding the budget involved, and encouraging and maintaining senior management support is also vital.
Food Safety Consultant Costs
Consultants charge for service in a number of ways; on a time basis, by the hour or day; or on a retainer, plus fees for time. In addition, consultants may charge for incurred expenses, including travel, phone calls, postage and etc. Fees and expense charges should be clearly stated on any contract or service agreement.
As a guide, consultant fees can range from $150 to $1,000 (US) per hour depending on their level of experience and expertise, and how many facilities they need to assess.
Consultant Contracts or Service Agreements
As with any business contract or service agreement, a food safety consultant specialist should define specific project goals and objectives, as well as deal with timelines and payment terms.
A contract or service agreement with your food safety consultant should include:
- A confidentiality agreement, used to protect trade secrets and sensitive information.
- A detailed breakdown of specific tasks that the consultant will perform, using timelines, sometimes referred to as “milestones,” and specifying when the consultant’s progress can be reviewed and what procedures are in place if there are questions or concerns.
- The total project amount and a mutually agreed payment schedule, which could be determined by project segments, such as providing a GAP Analysis, staff training, certifying to a specific standards scheme and ongoing support and guidance.
- Form of payment. A food safety consultant could require payment by company cheque, an e-transfer, or may permit credit card payments. In most cases, a retainer is required and in some instances, consulting fees can be financed through a government-funded bank.
- A clause requiring the consultant to carry liability insurance against “errors and omissions”; a type of insurance designed to insure against providing “bad” advice.
- In addition, a provision should be included to reserve the right to terminate the contract, at any time, by either party, with written notice or for non-performance.
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