Is your food business audit ready?

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?”

Unannounced food safety audits

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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5 thoughts on “Is your food business audit ready?”

  1. disqus_5UsN9q2Zt3

    Although my co-workers think me
    insane, (which I assure you I am not, my mother had me tested), I was very
    excited and welcomed the news that the SQFI decided to have unannounced audits
    as part of the program, (which I am confident the other GFSI systems will soon
    follow suit). It is my belief that an unannounced audit is the only way
    that a true “snap shot” of how the company is operating in a safe
    manner can be determined. As Ms. Evans noted, and we all know it is true,
    when the audit is announced, the company spends sometimes up to weeks prior to
    make sure the place is prepared and ready, everything has been cleaned and is
    spotless, missing documents have been “magically” recovered, etc.
    Announced audits are usually not very beneficial except to maybe uncover
    items that the company has failed to recognize as an issue, but as far as how
    the company operates daily, it tends to be more smoke and mirrors than an
    accurate view. .To make sure a company consistently operates in a safe manner
    all the time it is best to have an unannounced audit program. A company
    should always be prepared for the “Surprise! We’re here!” and
    be confident that they are ready. Sure the auditor may pop in when the
    company is experiencing a “bad hair day” , where everything seems to
    be going wrong, but my experience with auditors is that they understand this
    and don’t expect perfection, they will be more lenient in an unannounced audit.
    So in my opinion all audits should become unannounced and abandon the
    announced audits except as maybe used as a consulting tool.

  2. Dear Amanda, every Food Safety Consultant must write in his guidebook what you wrote to be successful in own work. see you soon

  3. Carol Williamson

    In response to unannounced audits I feel that companies with a small number of staff are going to find this difficult. We schedule events like SQF & customer audits so that key personel are not absent on those days. Our major maintenance down time is also scheduled around important events.

    Positives: the only positive that I can see is that maybe some companies are not all that they say they are but if a system is in place why would you not keep it in order to the best of your ability.

    Negatives: 1. companies with a small workforce multi-skill so have to schedule around major events for holidays. If an auditor drops in unannounced with an employee away who fills in for that employee who has to entertain an auditor for the day.

    2. What if an unannounced accreditation audit falls on the same day as a customer audit or some other major operational event.

    3. Maintenance schedule may be on when auditor appears so no plant would be running. (do we loose points because of this)

    4. What if the owner/manager is not available/away on business on that day and not present for closing of the audit.

    All these things must be taken into acount and I think that the negatives far out rule the positives. If the unannounced audit was just a spot check then yes that would be fair but to put a companies accreditation at risk just because it maybe a bad day that the auditor turns up I really have to wonder. What about the small things that happen day to day. Auditors may have to look at the way they currently take points off a company for trivial things to accommodate these audits.

  4. Charles Fassnacht

    It is my philosophy that every plant should be audit ready. That is what I coach whenever I am working with a new client. If you have to prepare for an audit, then you are not doing what you say. This can lead to serious consequences. From the top levels of management, down to the floor employees, we must strive to not only maintain, but exceed food safety expectations everyday.

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