Choosing a Consultant in the Food Industry

Are you developing and implementing a food safety program? Like many operations, you may consider hiring a consultant. This information sheet will help you make the right choice. It is designed to help food producers and processors:

  • determine their need for a consultant
  • find and select one, if needed
  • lay out the operation's role in working with a consultant

How Can a Consultant Help Me?

A carefully chosen consultant can be a valuable tool in developing and implementing your food safety programs. A good consultant can offer specialized skills and expertise to help you:

  • Conduct a thorough analysis to determine your food safety needs
  • Develop your written program, with input from your staff
  • Train staff and increase awareness
  • Improve existing food safety practices and procedures
  • Find solutions to challenges or barriers you may face implementing your program
  • Troubleshoot any food safety issues in your operation
  • Set up documentation and record keeping procedures
  • Prepare for audits
  • Maintain and update your program/system
  • Source equipment, software and services such as lab testing

How Do I Find a Consultant?

The food industry is complex and diverse. Unfortunately, consultants in the food industry don't have a professional association or accreditation program. To find a good consultant, seek advice and contacts from these sources:

  • Industry associations
  • Trade shows
  • Colleagues or peers in your industry

If you decide to hire a consultant, the time and effort you spend choosing one will be a good investment.

What Should I Look For in a Consultant?

A consultant needs to have both technical and practical knowledge of your industry or commodity. Below is a lengthy list of topics you may want to discuss before hiring a consultant:

What are your qualifications?

The consultant should provide you with information such as years of relevant experience and related training. It is important for them to have experience implementing food safety programs. Remember: equipment and/or software salespersons are not necessarily consultants.

Can you provide references and samples of work from previous clients?

The consultant should provide you with numerous samples that demonstrate their clear understanding of the programs you want to implement. These may include Good Agricultural Practices, Good Manufacturing Practices and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP).

Will you work directly with us, or do you assign an associate to do the work?

Assigning an associate does not mean the quality of work will suffer but you need to be aware of who you will be working with. If you are working with an associate, ensure you find out about their qualifications and receive samples of work they were involved with.

Are you willing to spend time on site, identifying the specific needs of my operation?

How often do you plan to visit? Will you be working on-site with our staff? Some on-site time will be required to conduct an analysis of your food safety and traceability needs and get input from your staff on current practices.

Will you help us to implement the program, not just write it?

What follow-up support will you provide once we have implemented the program? Can you train our staff on the program?

It is up to you to decide what level of service you want and what you are willing to pay for.

What is your fee?

Consultants charge fees in a number of ways: on a time basis, by the hour or day; a retainer, plus fees for time. It is also important to know what is not included in the fee such as travel expenses, phone calls and postage.

What Should the Consulting Contract Include?

Once you choose a consultant, you should draft a contract that sets out the goals of the project and the way you will work together. Be sure to include:

  • An action plan and timeline with a break down of specific tasks. Specify the points along the timeline where you would like to review the consultant's work.
  • Payment amount and terms of payment.
  • A confidentiality agreement.
  • Provisions for non-performance. If possible, reserve the right to terminate the contract.
  • A clause requiring the consultant to carry liability insurance.

How Can I Support the Project's Success?

While selecting the right consultant is important, being the right client is just as vital. To ensure success, you must involve the key people in your operation. Their role may include:

  • Being directly involved with the implementation project.
  • Setting aside staff time to support the consultants.
  • Ensuring staff who are familiar with operations will be on hand to review and test proposed procedures and documents to ensure they are feasible and effective.
  • Ensuring all staff know that this program is a priority, and that they have a responsibility to work co-operatively with the consultant.
  • Previewing any software solutions proposed by the consultant to ensure they fit your needs.
  • Ensuring that you and/or your staff have a full understanding of your program including procedures, policies and records before the consultant's contract ends.
  • Organizing and rolling out training which will be critical to the overall success of the program.

For more information:
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Author: OMAFRA Staff
Creation Date: 15 March 2009
Last Reviewed: 08 June 2018