The Food Standards Agency has published our report on “Assessment and comparison of third party assurance schemes in the food sector: Towards a common framework”. We identified and reviewed over 50 third-party assurance standards operating in the UK food sector. After completing an in-depth review, we concluded that many assurance schemes met the review criteria for the FSA to consider taking them into account when scheduling inspections. This should benefit regulators by helping them target their resources more effectively and benefit compliant businesses that meet legislative requirements through membership of certified  schemes by reducing the frequency of inspections.

However, the study identified a range of issues that indicated that the Agency may need to consider, especially if the number of recognised schemes is significantly increased. Some of the functions of regulatory inspections may not be covered by the typical third party assurance process, such as provision of advice to firms or communicating news of common safety or hygiene problems (found during assessments) across an industry.

We also noted that the approval bodies do not carry out tests of food samples, there is no requirement for assessors to report to local authorities and other enforcement organisations unresolved imminent risks at a food business and that only some of the schemes have arrangements for communicating with local authorities or other enforcement organisations.

Some of our key recommendations included:

Our report is perhaps timely given the recent publication of the “Elliott review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks: interim report”.

You can view the Elliott review here.

Amongst many other recommendations, the Elliot review has stated that “Industry and regulators must give weight to audit and assurance regimes, so as to allow credit where it is due;..” (p32).

Our report lays out options on how to further progress the effectiveness of third party accreditation schemes and how the FSA and local authorities can take account of these within their regulatory activities. We also list third party assurance schemes that the FSA could consider recognising.

The single most important area for further research was considered to be securing independent evidence of the outcomes of assurance schemes with respect to levels of compliance, contamination and disease.

The FSA state that it “is taking the findings of this research project into account as part of its wider earned recognition programme, the aim of which is to seek to improve risk based and proportionate inspections in line with the FSA’s compliance and enforcement strategy.”

You can view the report here.