Still, the on-site audit should never be ignored. The time in plant allows the auditor to verify that what they saw in the documents and records is accurate and true. Remember, there are places with great records that are imperfect when the records or procedures are viewed against actual practices. Even though cameras and cell phones will provide access to a plant, they only provide an incomplete snapshot of what is actually going on. Auditors need to use all their senses, including hearing. A well-run plant may be compared with one’s own car; the owner can usually detect issues by how the car sounds. The same is true with a food plant that is up and running well—it has its own sound.
As virtual audits increase in use, procedures and practices will improve, as will the auditor’s skills in detecting hidden problems. Technology improvements will also contribute to improved results as demand increases. The ultimate answer to the question of on-site versus virtual audits likely lies somewhere in the middle. A hybrid using local third-party staff guided remotely by a seasoned auditor seems like the best of both worlds.
Stier is a consultant food scientist and a member of the Food Quality & Safety Editorial Advisory Board. Reach him at [email protected].