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Quality Insider

Improving Food Safety Through Inspector Certification

More than just taste is at stake

Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - 10:37

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year one in six people becomes sick, more than 127,000 are hospitalized, and about 3,000 die of foodborne illness. The annual economic cost in the United States alone is about $77 billion.

Adding to the risk, the food supply chain has become highly globalized. As this has occurred, the number and severity of food safety incidents have risen. Protecting the supply chain and reducing the incidents of foodborne illness are therefore priorities for governments and industry worldwide.

Setting benchmarks

Common, measurable food safety standards not only safeguard public health, but also bring economic benefits. For example, to export food into the European Union, a company must comply with all standards required by the European Food Safety Authority. Those who do not have the capacity to meet basic safety standards significantly limit their ability to export food or ingredients, while putting the health of citizens in their own countries at risk.

Organizations with an interest in strengthening the food supply chain are stepping up to the challenge by introducing better safety management and auditing practices, and by forming coalitions and standards-setting bodies. Examples include the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) technical committee ISO/TC 34“Food products,” and the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).

Standards have also been established by various agencies and organizations, including the European Food Safety Authority, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Self-regulation in industry has produced successes such as the GFSI. However, it is public-sector initiatives that generally set national and international standards by which the ultimate authority and responsibility to ensure public health is balanced with trade.

Consistent, high-quality inspections

Inspection is a key tool used by government agencies to ensure food safety throughout the supply chain—from “ farm to fork.” They inspect activities such as agricultural and meat processing ; food manufacturing, packaging, and transport ; and point-of-sale food retail and food service.

The quality, quantity, and consistency of inspections vary widely throughout the world, both nationally and by the level of governmental agency involved. To address this variability in the United States, the FDA developed the concept of an integrated food safety system. The system facilitates recognition of inspection work across all levels of government—federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial.

Lack of competence among food safety inspectors can result in significant consequences for governments and society. Not only can foodborne illness incidents increase, but this may also lead to higher enforcement costs, failure to achieve policy objectives, reduced citizen trust in government, and a lower level of compliance.

Consistency and quality of inspections have the potential to improve the safety and consumer confidence along the food supply chain, facilitate increased food exports, reduce costs, improve government transparency and accountability, and strengthen the entire food safety system.

The FDA realized that the competency of inspectors and comparability of their inspections could be increased through training and certification. Organized efforts are, therefore, underway to train and certify inspectors and other food protection officials. The International Food Protection Training Institute has developed and implemented a career-spanning, training curriculum framework. It aligns competencies and provides knowledge and skills for professionals using a common body of knowledge.

Certifying inspectors

Personnel certification is a way of verifying that workers are competent to perform their jobs. ISO/IEC 17024:2012—“Conformity assessment—General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons,” can help ensure the qualifications and competence of food safety inspectors.

The FDA is among the regulatory agencies developing certification programs for inspectors according to ISO/IEC 17024. The administration is developing personnel certifications including manufactured food inspector, manufactured feed inspector, seafood inspector, low-acid canned foods inspector, produce inspector, retail food inspector, and imported foods inspector.

In accordance with ISO/IEC 17024, these personnel certifications involve conducting a job analysis to identify necessary tasks. The certification programs also investigate the candidate’s required knowledge, skills, and attributes with an exam.

By requiring that all recognized work be performed by certified officials, the FDA is ensuring the competence of food safety inspectors. In order to account for any differences that may occur (for example, if federal regulations differ from state regulations), job and task analyses are being validated at different government levels for inclusion in the training and certification system.

The experience of the FDA can be used as an international model. New requirements of the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act call for building international food safety capacity in the public and private sectors.

Food safety efforts by the World Bank and the World Health Organization recognize the value of a standards-based approach to training and certification to ensure sustainability and measurable outcomes.

The FDA has made progress in establishing training and certification processes for food safety inspectors. Quality and consistency will be enhanced by establishing a new ISO standard for assessing the quality and content of food safety training.

As more governments and regulatory bodies develop food safety inspector certification programs, the public can be increasingly confident in their competence.


About The Author

ISO’s picture


The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is the world’s largest developer and publisher of international standards. ISO is a network of the national standards institutes of 162 countries, one member per country, with a Central Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, that coordinates the system. ISO is a nongovernmental organization that forms a bridge between the public and private sectors. ISO enables a consensus to be reached on solutions that meet both the requirements of business and the broader needs of society. View the ISO Standards list.


ISO Inspectors

There's a basic flaw in ISO inspection systems or processes or procedures, and that is that ISO only care for documents, paperwork, records, "in any form or type of medium". It's no news that third party inspectors certify organic food producers based only on paperwork that's submitted to them: inspectors can be anosmic but they are rarely blind, they are all too aware that no field bordering a motorway can grow organic vegetables, but their ISO certification requires them to focus on paperwork. Thank you, ISO.