Interview with an Auditor

Meet long standing SALSA auditor and mentor, Ian Purse, who has been with the scheme since it's launch in 2007. We spoke to him earlier this month to find out more about being a SALSA auditor and mentor.

Hi Ian, How long have you worked in the food industry?

Let’s just say it’s in excess of 40 years (there’s no need to be too precise on these minor details!) and I think I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed all of them, from Technical roles, to Production Management, to factory management – in the UK, France and Holland. 


What was your first food job?

As a teenager I worked in a bakery during summer holidays, but my first proper job after getting my degree was as a very junior Technical Manager for a food business in South London. The business had four factories: one prepared fresh meats, one prepared delicatessen meat products; one prepared fresh veg, salads, fruit salads & mayonnaise-based dressings and one making specialist patisserie products.

The clients for all of the factories were high-end, London hotels and clubs. The range of products was a fantastic learning experience for me. I think that’s where I honed the knack of being able to get along with almost anyone, which is so important for any auditor. A large part of working as an auditor is getting people to talk to you, to tell you about all the fantastic things they do – in circumstances where they often feel a bit nervous.

I know many managers used to brief their staff saying ‘it’s an audit – don’t say too much because you might say something wrong’. The lovey thing about Salsa Audits is that auditors are allowed to give a little advice and guidance, I always do my best to make an audit a positive experience and think I achieve that most of the time. 


How long have you worked for SALSA? 

I’ve worked for Salsa since it started in 2007. I’m one of the original Auditors / Mentors still with Salsa from that era. We all shared the desire to roll-out a food safety standard that would be ‘a robust and well-respected first rung on the ladder’ for smaller food businesses and it has been a real pleasure to get to know so many of our members over the years and to see them grow into thriving enterprises.


What do you enjoy most about SALSA auditing and mentoring?

Meeting fantastic, passionate people who are such experts in their fields. As Salsa Auditors & Mentors we’re required to have a good understanding of all the food products and production processes that we audit. But any auditor will tell you that the real experts in the businesses we audit are the teams that run them and make the products, day in – day out. Auditors might understand a bit more about the biochemistry, microbiology and the theories behind thermal processing than the businesses we visit, but put us in front of a bottling machine, retort, pasteuriser or cooker that’s on the blink and most of us would be useless!  


What is a key issue facing British food producers in 2022? 

There are many issues facing our industry at the moment; the skill that is going to get our businesses through them is that knack of turning problems into opportunities. The main problems that I’m seeing range from shortages of staff to shortages of cardboard packaging (thanks to the home-delivery boom); delays and added red-tape in getting raw materials in from the EU and in getting finished products to clients.

However, Salsa Members have repeatedly shown they’re up for those challenges. So many of them created fantastic web-based sales platforms almost overnight, to give themselves a chance of surviving Covid – and they did a brilliant job! So, I have no doubt our members will find ways to modify packaging, identify new raw materials and suppliers, new clients and new ways to get their products to them; recruit, invest in training and maybe a bit of mechanisation, to get the very best out of their human resources. Staff are the ‘key’ and one of the most important things is to retain staff. Replacing skilled staff costs a fortune, takes ages to retrain and we lose all that knowledge when someone good leaves …. so good businesses are focussing on creating an environment where the staff really feel ‘valued’.


Food Heaven?

From a purely ‘food’ point of view, any good food, that has been well-made: something as simple as beautiful, freshly baked rustic bread, a good cheese and a glass of wine.  From a ‘food business’ point of view, that feeling that the staff are motivated and working as a brilliant team: every business, every factory has its own ‘atmosphere’, and that is something auditors & mentors instinctively pick-up-on very quickly. We have to – we’re ‘people’ people.

Food Hell?

Foods that are un-necessarily over-complicated in their recipes or packaging: every ingredient has a job to do and needs to bring something special to the end product. Life’s complicated enough: don’t make products more complicated than they need to be.