Audits are critically important to food companies and should be treated as such. They are the primary tool your customers use to determine if adequate food safety systems are in place at your facility. This article covers some of the strategies and tactics that should be considered to maximise your chances of a successful audit.
We will take a look at the mechanics of an audit – what’s it all about – as well as considering some common sense tips that will help facilitate a smooth audit visit.
In simple terms, an audit is an answer to a series of specific questions and how you meet them. The Plan, Do, Check Act (PDCA) model is an ideal way to begin to approach an audit.
Plan: What are the rules of the game?
Here we need to consider what are the objectives of the audit and what are the parameters. Know your standard inside and out. You need to know it better than the auditor so you can speak with authority when something comes up that you don’t agree with. You need to be an expert.
Do: What is your procedure?
This is the crux of the audit. The auditor has asked about a requirement under the standard, and now you need to show him (evidence) how you do it. This needs to be written down in a controlled policies and procedure document.
Your goal here is to lead the auditor down a straight and clear path. The auditor reviews the document for compliance to the standard and moves on to his next question.
So, the process needs to include:-
- A written document control procedure with clear responsibilities.
- A way that staff can access the documents.
- A listing (register) of all the documents in the system
- A document retention or storage system
Check: What proof do you have that it was done?
We are back to evidence again. For example, you go over a procedure with the auditor and then he will want proof that it was done according to that procedure. So what can you show the auditor to demonstrate that this is how you do things? Remember if a procedure isn’t documented, you have no proof that it was done.
You may at this point bring up other areas where you test your system as well such as internal audits, self assessment etc. Also consider that auditors will judge behaviours against the evidence they see, so “talking a good game” won’t necessarily cut it if your evidence logs are not consistent with what the auditors sees.
Act: What happens if it is not correct?
We all recognise – even auditors – that no system is perfect, and if it is the auditor will be suspicious. Auditors expect to see errors in your system; they expect to see that things didn’t go as planned. The key here is being able to demonstrate what you did about it. This is your corrective action procedure. Just like document control, it operates the same. So, just like document control, you need a procedure that addresses the requirements and proof that it is followed. Your errors are your proof.
Above all any auditor is looking for clarity and easy path to navigate their way through your processes. The PDCA model can help you to do that.
Now we take a look at some tips that can help you in preparing for and executing a successful audit.
As we have discussed earlier, audits are largely based on the ability to provide the auditor with evidence that operations are compliant with a certain standard. The types of thing that will alert the auditor or make him want to dig deeper include a lack of organisation, untrained staff, and misinterpretation of compliance criteria. So in order to minimise this, here are 5 points to consider:
1.Small things matter
Make sure that conditions throughout the plant are tidy and things are labelled and in their rightful place. There should be sufficient space between the wall and stored material for pest control and cleaning activities to take place. Also ideally your internal audit should be conducted at least two months prior.
2. Teamwork is vital to success
At least three weeks before the audit have a staff meeting to prepare. Employees should be familiar with their written job descriptions and the monitoring records they are responsible for. Also staff and management need to have an understanding of:
- The hazards related to the CCP identified in the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, or HACCP, plan.
- Terms such as “corrective action,” and the difference between verification and validation.
- The difference between recall and traceability.
3. Last minute won’t cut it
Preparation is the key to a successful audit outcome and so actions like filling out documentation in front of the auditor, or correcting deviancies while the audit is being conducted just won’t work. It is also important to use assertive language when speaking with the auditors. Cut out terms like “we try” or “sometimes.”
4. Senior Management involvement
We all have been part of audits where management is not available to attend either the opening or closing meeting. It is in the best interest of the company for someone in a senior role to be briefed prior to the meeting, and meet with the auditor. Adopting an accredited standard is a serious commitment. Senior management should speak with the auditor about the standard/audit and explain some of the steps that have been taken to comply with the standard.
5. Don’t be defensive
Auditors are human beings too, and they will not take kindly to being challenged especially on an area where you clearly don’t comply. Remember they are just doing their job, and the main activity of that job is to collect data. So, if you disagree with the findings, take it up through the appeals process. You can challenge the auditor after the report is issued. Stay positive and the audit will go more smoothly.
If you want to know more about how HVDS can help you to comply with relevant standards relating to clean air in the food industry, please contact us at HVDS on 01785 256976 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.