FSAI Publishes Audit of Cold Stores

Monday, 16 November 2015

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) today published an audit report on levels of non-compliance with food law by commercial cold stores. These facilities provide services to food businesses by way of rental of refrigerated storage space and provision of other services. Audits were carried out by the FSAI across 16 operational cold stores selected based on size, type of products stored and services offered. The particular focus of the audits was on requirements regarding traceability, labelling and identification of product stored.

Compliance checks identified 71 breaches of legislation, highlighting the need for the cold store operators to improve compliance with food law relevant to their business:

  • 63% of facilities were non-compliant in relation to pre-requisite programmes (basic good hygiene and practices) and food safety management systems
  • 50% were non-compliant in relation to product identification and location (tracking)
  • 47% of facilities that accepted returns did not have adequate controls in place
  • 44% of the businesses were not capable of providing the required information during the traceability checks
  • 38% were non-compliant with legal requirements regarding labelling

The report notes that in recent years, cold store operators have expanded the range of services they offer, with more than 22 distinct services identified among the facilities audited. The expansion of services offered to clients has meant that cold stores are now routinely operational outside normal working hours, with many providing clients with 24 hour access. The practice of sub-letting cold store chambers or dedicated space within a chamber to tenants has become common. In some of the cold stores audited, these tenant food business operators were found to be operating unsupervised.

During the audits, numerous examples of best practice were observed; many of which included the customisation of the electronic warehouse management system to track and record movement of product within the cold store, integration of the system with client software and also scanning of associated paperwork.

In the past, cold stores were at the periphery of the food chain, either storing raw materials or finished product for processors; however, the report notes that activities undertaken in cold stores are now more closely aligned with those of processors or wholesalers. All food businesses are legally obliged to have a food traceability system in place. This requires cold stores to have the documentation to identify what products are coming in and what products are going out of the cold stores. As part of the audit, 44% of the businesses were not capable of providing the required information during the traceability checks.

The FSAI also identified deficiencies in the inspection service in place in the cold stores assessed. The frequency of inspections applied in these cold stores was not found to be commensurate with the risk associated with the activities and complex arrangements associated with these establishments. In the majority of audits conducted, the inspectors were not familiar with the full suite of activities being carried out in, or tenants operating from, the establishment. Neither were they familiar with the warehouse management systems in place.

To address the recommendations in the report, the FSAI is working closely with the official agencies to strengthen operational and inspection controls in this area, which includes a review of the risk categorisation of cold stores, the training required by inspectors and the level of collaboration between supervising official agencies. It will develop a guide to good practice for cold store operators and food businesses operating from these facilities.

Report: Targeted Audit of Cold Stores