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Expertise + Training + Commitment = A Day in the Life of a USDA Process Verified Program Auditor

Posted by Nikki Adams, Auditor, AMS Livestock, Poultry and Seed Program in USDA Results
Feb 21, 2017
Nikki Adams with a man
“Each audit is different and a unique experience—which I love, because it allows me to work with all facets of agriculture.” – Nikki Adams, USDA PVP Auditor

As an auditor for USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), I am one of a small group of highly-qualified individuals from across the country who audits companies that use our programs and services to add value to their products in the market place.  One of these programs is the USDA Process Verified Program, or USDA PVP for short.

For a PVP audit, I do a significant amount of preparation before I’m even on-site, pouring over the Quality Manual the company prepared as part of their application.  The Quality Manual – the starting point for any PVP – documents all of the process points, the scope of each, and the standard I am ensuring they will meet. To evaluate this effectively, I rely on my extensive training in International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) quality management system requirements and audit principles, as well as training specific to the industry, processes, and points being audited.

When I first arrive on-site, I check-in and at an opening meeting I introduce myself to the Quality Assurance Manager and other representatives from the company. This gives us a chance to go over the finer points of the audit and quality standards or process points I’ll be verifying.  If I’ve audited them before, I’ll also go over any previous non-compliance findings before I begin to make sure they’ve been addressed. These meetings are essential for establishing expectations and ensuring open communication.

Our PVP audits require intense review of records and documentation.  Working through the checklist contents – for a PVP, it’s 20-30 pages long – I make sure that the checklist reflects all the points outlined in the process manual.  I also review the process and production records the company has kept since the last audit.  On average, I conduct between 50-75 audits per year, so I’m able to remain proficient at reviewing these types of records.

While documentation is a huge piece of my auditing, I also must visit each location that is tied to a process-verified point to see for myself and USDA that the standards that the company set for itself are being met.  This means that over the course of a day or week, I might visit farms, hatcheries, feedlots, feed mills and other areas of production, as well as processing plants – all to verify different production aspects to ensure that the PVP shield truly represents the verified product that the company’s customers expect.

I also spend a great deal of time interviewing staff about their work, how they are operating within the quality control process, and ensuring that their routines and efforts are maintaining the  integrity of the PVP.  I speak with everyone - from farm owners to live-haul crews, receiving departments to nutritionists - to verify that staff members are trained correctly and doing their part.  My agriculture background – growing up on a farm, academic training, and industry experience –help me evaluate whether these quality and process requirements are met.  Depending on the process being evaluated, I may also use other training, such as that provided by the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization, to evaluate the company’s practices.

Once I’ve verified all of the process points, documentation, and finished my interviews, I hold an exit meeting to review my findings.  These meetings are with a wide range of individuals—sometimes even the company president—but usually with management as well as the Quality Assurance Manager. To me, this level of involvement from company leadership is a testament to our clients’ commitment to ensuring the quality of products they produce.

At the exit meeting, I go over my findings.  I outline any non-conformance I find and the expected course of action to correct it.  I explain to them that they have 30 days to correct minor findings and 15 days for major findings, and that they will be accountable for meeting those timelines through another round of review and auditing.  It’s important that they understand the severity of non-compliance, but also the path to fixing any issues.

Each audit is different and a unique experience – which I love, because it allows me to work with all facets of agriculture.  The variety and complexity of these audits also require that I maintain a high level of training, not only training in ISO principles and industry practices but also certification as an American Society for Quality’s Certified Quality Auditor.  I’ve been able translate the passion of my youth into in-depth knowledge of all types of agricultural production.  Mostly, I like knowing that every day I’m a part of the team providing transparency and quality from farm to table.

USDA Process Verified shield
Using a robust system of evaluation, including onsite audits and comprehensive requirements, auditors ensure that marketing claims and process points for the companies utilizing PVP services are verified from farm to market.
Category/Topic: USDA Results

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Sue carter
Mar 10, 2016

How are horses (not raised for meat) crossing the border for slaughter for human consumption with USDA back tags on their rumps?
140,000 Privately-owned, non-food horses crossed our border last year for slaughter for human consumption. This is the largest US Livestock Export.
USDA is dumping adulterated meat product.

Mary Kostanski
Mar 10, 2016

Can you please tell me how 150,000 horses both wild and domestic cross our borders every year for the purpose of human consumption? These horses have a USDA sticker on them yet they have not been raised for human consumption and hence given drugs that explicitly say "not intended for animals destined for human consumption." How is it that USDA stickers are affixed to horses when a USDA vet has not examined them? Where is the responsibility here, when one of the workd's most powerful and wealthy nations is in fact poisoning the global food supply? We out here are not taking this lightly and as taxpayers funding this department, we have the right to some answers.

Claudia Lopez
Mar 14, 2016


I am a Commodity Grader and I am interested in learning more about becoming a part of the USDA Processed Verified Program.

I believe I have the potential to become a great Auditor.

Thank you for your response.


Claudia Lopez, ACG, Fresno California

Ben Weaver
Mar 22, 2016

@Claudia Lopez - thanks for reading and for your interest! We hope the information we sent you was helpful.

Rex Vitale
Mar 30, 2016

I work as a urban farmer and I'm disabled the story was interesting and has let me know better what you do on a daily bases in your job. I did work as a meat manager and a butcher for 27 years and have work with the federal USDA inspectors . I often wonder how a person could find a job like that but I know that you always find people trying to cut corners .