Internal audits are critical to the maintenance and improvement of your food safety management system.

They will also be a focus of each of your certification and surveillance audits; certification bodies want to know that they can rely on the internal audit program to verify the effectiveness of the food safety management system in between certification and surveillance audits.

Audits are a key component of maintaining food safety systems and certification to prove to your customers and consumers that the site is following best practices and ensuring production of safe, quality foods. An audit is intended to create transparency in the supply chain, enhance food safety while focusing on continuous improvement.

Through the process of program development, implementation, and verification, the preparation for being audited – is no small feat.

The team must learn to work in ways that they may not have encountered before such as; documenting actions taken, obtain additional training, and increase the level of communication between departments. Ultimately, the goal is to work in collaboration, follow defined processes and enhance understanding of requirements at all levels.

This systematic process, when followed can also help to build a culture of food safety and ensure the team is audit ready every day.

Be Prepared throughout the YearWait to the last minute to prepare of the audit

Why : A site that starts planning in advance will have more time to implement/enhance programs, train the team, and find non-conformances before the audit

Cross-functional team support and readinessHave a team of one or just the technical team

Why: It is impossible to be successful without a team that can help develop, implement, and reinforce policies, procedures, and plans – ensure to involve all key stakeholders and get buy-in along the way.

Follow your procedures and verify it is working as intendedLet the auditor find issues that the team could of found and addressed proactively

Why: Verification through inspections and internal audits must be established to ensure the programs put in place are working and if there are non-conforming issues that they are addressed prior to an audit and product is protected

Provide Objective Evidence with clear and concise answers to questionsBe Defensive or answer with just closed responses to questions (Yes/No) with no details

Why: A auditor is required to collect objective evidence through documentation and record review, interviews, and observations. A site that is prepared to provide this information and to give enough details for an auditor to determine conformity will achieve a greater audit success.

Be OrganizedDocuments and Records are not readily available
and retrieved in a timely manner.

Why: When the team and the necessary documents are organized, the audit will likely go smoother and provide a way for the auditor to assess the documents and records required to determine conformance.

Team understands the Code as well as the AuditorLack of training of the team and internal audits

Why: Training is a key component of audit success – not just the main person responsible but all team members – from basic intro food safety to understanding the code requirements which your site will be audited against. Have a team that better understands the ‘what’ and the ‘why’, will help adoption and on-going implementation.

Develop an Agenda in Collaboration with the auditorAllowing the auditor to drive the Agenda and all aspects of the audit

Why: An auditor may have a standard order that they would like to perform the audit but the site must work in collaboration with the auditor to ensure that they understand when shift changes occur, when key stakeholders are available, when certain production or packing is being performed. Providing this knowledge will allow for a more successful flow of the audit and proving compliance.

Be Positive and be open to the Auditors FindingsBe Combative with the auditor, instead of providing objective evidence to support the rational for why you think it is not a finding

Why: A positive mindset will calm nerves, provide leadership, and focus not only within the team but also allow the auditor an ability to ask questions and obtain information in a meaningful and open approach. Our goal is to find a balance it taking an audit seriously and understand its a continuous improvement journey.

Show management commitment and leadership throughout the audit – opening to closingHaving no management representation or engagement throughout the audit

Why: A management team that is visible throughout the audit as needed and participates in both the opening and closing meetings will provide the auditor an understanding of management commitment. They need to be available to answer questions and to provide supporting evidence when needed (e.g. KPI’s, CAPEX plans, etc.)

Focus on Continuous ImprovementHave a mindset that creates complacency in programs and attitudes

Why: The success or failure of audits can hinge on our mindset of continuous improvement – if we are stagnant with our programs, lack change, and poor attitudes this can be our demise but a team that is robust in its change management and plan/do/check/act processes will achieve their goals.

Here are some tips to make your audit program more effective.

Create an audit team with enough members:

Effective internal audit programs have a team of anywhere from 4-8 or more auditors depending on the size of the company. Remember that you will need to work around the auditors regular work schedule and work load and be able to assign auditors with no responsibility for the area being audited. Provide consistent training for the team so everyone is using the same approach and techniques.

Audit by “Process” not procedure.

Process auditing has been shown to provide better results because it covers the interaction of the different procedures. For example, by performing an audit of the shipping and receiving area or departments you will cover the whole shipping and receiving processes including all of the procedures that are relevant in that area. You are ensuring that the whole process works.

Use a checklist with the standard requirements, and add your own questions from your documentation.

Adding your own questions each audit makes the checklist tailored to your audit and means that each audit will be slightly different, covering the system better over time.

Keep employees in the area well informed of when auditors are coming through, and what their purpose is.

The more employees are involved and informed the better prepared they are to give the auditors the information they need to do a thorough evaluation of the system.

Keep good notes.

Do not just check off a box saying complies or does not comply, note what is found. This information will help you give feedback on what is working and what is not. It also demonstrates to your certification auditor that you are performing an effective internal audit.

Remember to adjust your audit schedule based on your findings in an area.

If an area is showing more issues or nonconformances, increase the frequency of the audits. Audit based on the status of the area. Audit each area or process at least once per year. Your audit team is key in measuring effectiveness and generating improvements to the system.

Write a clear, complete audit report and schedule follow up on any nonconformances identified.

Make the most of your audit results, it is valuable information that is not always fully utilized by organizations. You have invested time and effort into gathering the information, make sure that you use it to the fullest to improve your system.

Provide effective training for your auditors.

It is common to present a power-point presentation and send auditors out to audit. The auditors have not practiced the steps, and are not confident as they perform their audits. It can be uncomfortable for new auditors to go into the facility and do an audit that involves their peers. Be sure that training covers not only the basic steps of auditing and the requirements of the standard, but also a “how to” training with practice on how to ask questions, review records and perform each step of the process. Send your auditors out with confidence.

Provide results to the Management Team for management review.

The better the information from the audit program is summarized and presented, the more it will inform management on the status of the system. There is more information to be provided than just the number of nonconformances identified and if the audits are being performed on time. Give management information on what is being found in the different areas along with what improvements are coming from the corrective action process.

Provide the resources to perform timely, effective internal audits with thorough corrective action and follow ups.

This means providing enough trained auditors, time to perform the audits and time for those who need to complete corrective actions.

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