I’ve never met a food safety and quality assurance (FSQA) professional who doesn’t think audits are important. They help regulatory agencies, third-party standards, internal organizations, customers, and the consuming public have confidence in our products. And by helping to prevent food safety events or customer quality issues, it could be said that ultimately audits are an important tool in helping to protect market and brand value.
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But today’s FSQA departments have what is often referred to as “audit fatigue.” Audits are resource-intensive. Even though most FSQA teams are doing a great job, it takes a lot of time and documentation to prove it. Between regulatory, third-party certifications such as Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), customer, and internal audits—some food and beverage companies are experiencing one or more audits per month. This will only intensify as third-party certification bodies move toward unannounced audits, basically requiring FSQA departments to be audit-ready all the time.
How Audit-Ready Are You?
Take a moment to complete the Food Safety Audit Readiness Quiz below.
Have a few No’s or Hmmm’s? If so, you might not be as audit-ready as you need to be. The good news is that there are many FSQA technology innovations today to help you be audit-ready on demand. Not only to produce electronic records and documents, but to actually ensure that all of your food safety and quality programs are being followed so that you can pass with minimum deductions.
This article will cover audit readiness challenges, how FSQA automation technology can help, and the benefits that can be achieved.
While audits have specific requirements depending on the type, all audits—whether it’s a regulatory, GFSI, customer or internal audit—have the following four things in common.
- You have to show that you “say what you are going to do.” Are all of your food safety plans, risk assessments, preventive controls-related standard operating procedures (SOPs), prerequisite programs (PRPs), Good Manufacturing Practices, etc., defined, organized, and accessible?
- You have to show you “do what you say.” Can you verify scheduling and completion of tasks? Are you ensuring that test results become part of your FSQA records?
- You have to “make sure it works.” Can you prove, through analysis and scientific validation, that what you’re doing is working? Can you validate that the frequency of your inspections is correct? Or that your Critical Limits are working? Are you getting timely information to put Corrective/Preventive Actions (CAPAs) in place? And, are you able to analyze data for continuous improvement?
- You have to “make sure it’s documented.” Do you have accurate, audit-ready documentation for numbers 1 to 3? All responsible FSQA organizations are doing these things, but unfortunately, when it comes to audits, if it’s not properly documented you might as well not have done it.
In addition to having many requirements in common, audits have something else in common: they present many of the same challenges to FSQA organizations. These challenges fall into the following main categories.
Sheer Volume of Paper. Gathering and maintaining all of the documents, records that verify and validate the various components of food safety plans, supplier compliance records, proof of CAPAs, and more is time consuming. Additionally, ensuring that everything is complete and accurate can become an even larger challenge.
Ensuring Plans are Carried Out Correctly. In addition to gathering records, there’s also the challenge of making sure everything is in conformance with requirements. Preparing for an audit is not the time to find out that one facility is using old forms or wasn’t aware of a new or modified Critical Limit or Preventive Control.
Managing Supplier/Vendor. Whether it’s for the Food Safety Modernization Act’s (FSMA) Foreign Supplier Verification Program, GFSI-approved vendor programs, customer requirements, or your own food safety plans—tracking supplier specifications, registrations, vendor audit documents, and more—is a huge challenge for most FSQA organizations.