When it comes to third party food safety certification there is currently a requirement to provide adequate notice to the food business that they will be audited. This generally involves trying to co-ordinate an audit date that suits all of the major stakeholders including both customers and the actual auditee. The level of scheduling required by the third party certification bodies can be an absolute night-mare but more importantly does the food business audit actually reflect the day to day practices of that food business.
As an auditor who is and has been involved in both announced and unannounced food business audits, I am not so naive to think that food businesses do not clean-up or prepare for their scheduled audit. So my question is – “If you had an unannounced food safety audit today, would you pass with flying colours?”
SQF Third-Party Assessment Program to Require Unannounced Audits
SQFI have announced that they will be incorporating an unannounced audit protocol into their certification process from July 2014. The protocol is set to require that one out of every three SQF audits will be unannounced. The BRC already have an announced option for their audits however this is not mandatory for food businesses who are certified under this GFSI approved standard at this stage (but I am sure will be coming soon).
I believe this is a fantastic initiative in further protecting public food safety. I am a massive advocate in not only protecting public health but also protecting food business risk. If your food business is actively participating in food safety compliance and is “audit ready” any-day of the week, you greatly reduce your business exposure to litigation, food recalls and food poisoning outbreaks. As a side bonus, your food business gets to maintain certification. This mindset can only benefit the overall success of the food business.
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You may be used to being ‘inspection ready’ – when government officials visit your business and undertake routine food safety inspection but ‘audit ready’ is a little different. Third party certification audits cover not only the GMP side of operations but also record completion and correct documentation and implementation of policies and procedures.
How to be food business audit ready
Being audit ready is not something that just happens overnight. It takes time, commitment from all levels of management and adequate training for all food handlers. It also requires a very strong internal audit process to be functional within your food business. If you don’t have someone constantly checking compliance, human nature will kick-in with people generally prioritising activities based on their own needs and wants.
To put this in context – if I ask my 13 year old son to make his bed and I don’t actually physically check that the task has been completed, I can be certain that his bed will not be made. His priority is to get outside and ride his skateboard, not to make his bed. When I check (and I consistently check every day), his bed is always made.
The value of internal audits
I have seen over the years that the behaviours of adults in the food industry are really no different to that of my son. This is why your internal audit program should be a rigorous and structured process. It will be interesting to see how-many other third party food safety and quality standards adopt a mandatory unannounced audit protocol in the coming year. If you truly believe that your food business is ‘audit-ready’ now, share your success tips by leaving a comment below this post. If you disagree with the concept of unannounced audits in improving your food safety compliance I would love to hear from you too!
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