The ASC Food Hygiene Audit Process and Rating System for Certification – How it Works!

Hygiene audits are becoming a key requirement for restaurant chains, hotel groups, fast food chains, healthcare facilities and also for companies that may not necessarily be a food-handling organisation but have a cafeteria or canteen. This is because many businesses have realised that the importance of food safety can no longer be undermined. Unsafe food can cause serious illnesses, a public health risk and in some cases even death. We have witnessed this with several reported food safety incidents in South Africa and throughout the world.

ASC Public Health and Food Safety has over the years been involved in conducting thorough hygiene audits and investigations of foodborne illnesses using modern, practical and evidence-based methods to come up with solutions to assist facilities whose hygiene standards require improvements. Through our investigative approach, we have uncovered serious pathogens in facilities, which if they found their way into the food could have led to serious foodborne disease outbreaks. We have also been able to properly conduct food safety risk assessments by auditing existing controls to identify possible risks to ensure that possible food safety incidents are prevented or at minimum, there are practical risk mitigation measures put in place.

Audit Methodology

ASC employs the following methodologies for conducting hygiene audits to ensure comprehensive evaluation and adherence to the highest standards of food safety and hygiene:

  1. Initial Compliance Check: Our auditors commence by verifying the facility’s adherence to the minimum regulatory standards. This involves checking for valid registrations with the health department and the presence of necessary certifications. Furthermore, the audit examines compliance with country-specific legal requirements, including food storage, food handlers’ adherence to regulatory standards, and other critical areas such as pest control, waste management, cleaning, sanitising, and medical screenings.
  2. Risk-Based Hygiene Assessment: A detailed food safety risk assessment is conducted using a specialised, risk-based hygiene assessment tool. This initial phase focuses on evaluating the design and workflow of the food service facility to identify potential risks.
  3. Evaluation of Food-handling Procedures: The auditors critically assess the food-handling procedures for their practicality, relevance, and adequacy, ensuring they are effectively implemented to safeguard food safety.
  4. Comprehensive Audit of Food Safety Practices: The audit extends to scrutinising storage and temperature control protocols, food serving procedures, cleanliness of facilities and equipment, overall hygiene of the facility, and adherence to good food-handling practices. This ensures the preparation of safe food that meets or exceeds customer expectations.
  5. Personnel Hygiene Assessment: Recognising the paramount importance of personnel hygiene, significant time is dedicated to interviewing food handlers. This process assesses their understanding and commitment to food safety responsibilities, identifies knowledge gaps, and provides targeted education as needed.
  6. Laboratory Testing: Samples are collected from areas identified as medium to high risk through our risk assessment tool for laboratory analysis. This testing aims to detect indicator organisms and pathogens, providing a scientific basis for the audit findings.
  7. Comprehensive Reporting: The auditor compiles a detailed report summarising all observations and findings categorised as minor, major, or critical. This report is finalised and released after the availability of laboratory test results. It is important to note that the discovery of pathogens in the product or on Zone 1 equipment, surfaces, or utensils automatically results in a critical finding in the audit report.

ASC’s approach ensures that our hygiene audits are thorough, professional, and aligned with both regulatory standards and best practices in food safety and hygiene.


Auditor Qualifications and Requirements

To maximise the benefits offered by ASC, we ensure that all of our auditors possess qualifications in fields such as food science, food chemistry, environmental health, biochemistry, microbiology, or related disciplines.

In addition to their foundational education, prospective auditors undergo comprehensive training, including advanced courses in good hygiene practices and HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points), advanced health and safety, as well as ISO 45001 training.

They are also trained in advanced environmental management systems, notably based on ISO 14001 standards, and obtain a food safety lead auditor certification. A fundamental requirement for maintaining their proficiency and ensuring the highest standards of audit quality is their participation in annual refresher courses.


Breaking Down the Food Hygiene Audit Process

The audit report meticulously outlines the facility’s compliance levels, categorising them into full compliance, non-compliance (subdivided into minor, major, or critical), and observations. It employs visual aids to facilitate the audited entity’s understanding of its performance metrics, highlighting strengths, areas requiring enhancement, and aspects of non-compliance.

Additionally, the report includes a recommendations section, offering a strategic action plan aimed at elevating the facility’s hygiene standards.

To ensure the integrity and professionalism of the audit report, it undergoes a rigorous review by a technical expert. This review process guarantees that the report is equitable, of superior quality, professional, and objective.

The audit employs a scoring system out of 100%, with a minimum threshold of 80% required for passing. A critical non-compliance finding results in an immediate audit failure. Meanwhile, major non-compliance deductions are 10 points per occurrence, minor non-compliances are penalised by 2 points each, and observations result in a deduction of 1 point per instance.

Based on this scoring mechanism, facilities can be awarded a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum rating outcome, with platinum representing the pinnacle of audit achievements.

Facilities that attain a rating of bronze or higher are not only acknowledged on our database but are also bestowed with a certificate of recognition, underscoring their commitment to maintaining superior hygiene standards.


How Does the Rating (Scoring) System Work?

Our proprietary 5-star rating system establishes precise benchmarks for excellence in hygiene, offering a structured framework to assess and recognise the sanitation standards of facilities:

5-Star Platinum Rating: This rating signifies that a facility has attained exemplary standards in both hygiene practices and documentation across all evaluated areas. To be awarded a platinum rating, a facility must achieve a score of 95% or higher. The certification remains valid for a period of 24 months, during which the facility is obliged to submit food safety documentation and provide two samples annually for pathogen monitoring. This rigorous process ensures ongoing compliance until the expiration of the certification.

4-Star Gold Rating: Facilities awarded a gold rating have demonstrated high levels of hygiene and documentation. This certification is valid for 18 months, within which a surprise inspection is conducted with a 48-hour notice in the final two months of the certification period. Success in this inspection offers the facility an opportunity to elevate its status to a platinum rating, thereby extending the certification validity to 24 months. A gold rating is indicative of a facility achieving a score between 90% and 94.9%.

3-Star Silver Rating: A silver rating is awarded to facilities that have achieved commendable hygiene standards, with identified areas requiring improvement. The certification is valid for 12 months, contingent upon the completion of environmental monitoring and a traceability exercise at the six-month mark post-initial audit. Successful completion of these requirements ensures the continuation of the certification’s validity. Scores that fall between 85% and 89.9% are categorised under this rating.

2-Star Bronze Rating: Facilities receiving a bronze rating have met basic hygiene compliance standards, albeit with a recommendation for further improvements to reach optimal levels. However, no immediate food safety concerns are identified. The certification is valid for 6 months, reflecting a score range from 80% to 84.9%.

1-Star Rating: This rating is assigned to facilities that have not met basic hygiene requirements, indicating a need for substantial improvements. In such cases, no certification is issued, and a re-audit is mandated to reassess the facility’s compliance.

Critical Failures: The presence of pathogens in food, or on Zone 1 surfaces, utensils, or equipment, necessitates an immediate intervention. This underscores our unwavering commitment to public health and safety. Certifications are suspended pending the implementation and verification of comprehensive corrective actions to address these critical failures.


Conclusion

ASC has solid experience in hygiene auditing and has proven over the years that it has world-class auditors and hygiene audit tools. The company’s commitment to excellence has seen its portfolio of clients for hygiene audits going across South African borders.

Are you looking for an exceptional, but yet cost-effective food hygiene audit certification option? Get in touch with us.

You are also welcome to drop us a comment in the comment section below if you have any questions or need assistance with your hygiene audits. We love to hear from our website visitors.

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