As a food manufacturer, you may encounter a variety of audits. You could have a third party (HACCP, GFSI), regulatory (FDA inspections), customer, and internal audits. All of these audits have a common theme; producing safe food for consumers.
Your facility is supposed to be audit-ready at all times. However, it is a common fear in quality assurance that something is not up to the standards. So how do you feel comfortable with your audit readiness?
Well, let’s take a look into what creates confidence in audit readiness so that you are no longer asking when is the next audit, but instead making the plant’s food safety stronger.
1. Establish a Food Safety Culture
Food safety culture is a significant component of being audit-ready 24/7. Most importantly, the food safety culture is not just the responsibility of the Quality Manager, but that of the entire upper management team to the newest hire. Food safety should be established on day one of employment and be a priority every day. This could include mandatory and regular food safety training, ensuring all employees know what food safety risks are present in their part of the operation, proper environmental and product sampling training, and even open communications to employees about audit findings.
For example, all facility employees should know the color-coding system used for items used in the plant (i.e., White for food contact surfaces and black for drains). Then, the employees should know what to do if there is an improper use of a colored item (i.e., report to supervisor and clean).
2. Conduct Internal Mock Audits
Third-party audits like SQF, ISO, or BRC have a written standard that you can view ahead of time and develop internal policies to ensure that you are always current on the standards’ version. These GFSI audits have checklists that you can find on their website to help do an internal audit on your facility. In addition, having a HACCP audit will help as your HACCP plan plays a crucial role in the other GFSI standards.
Conducting internal audits by following a standard that you are going to be audited for will help create a more robust food safety program and demonstrate to the other employees how serious food safety is.
3. Be organized
Have a game plan as to how you are going to organize, audit, and store documentation. Are you managing your documents in binders or file folders? Are they stored in filing cabinets, or are they stored electronically? Make sure that all documents are easily accessible and available to the appropriate employees.
When using binders or a file folder system, it can be hard to maintain because there has to be a manual tracking system to keep up-to-date documents. The person in charge of the documentation will need to spend time going through and checking manually for expiration dates and then manually reaching out to the company to get the documentation.
An electronically automated program is going to be the most efficient way to maintain up-to-date documentation. Document Compliance Network (DCN) is a software program that can ensure vendor documentation is up to date all year round. Having software that will automatically reach out to suppliers for documentation (ex: Certificate of Assurance, GFSI Audit, or a Spec Sheet) will help the person in charge of the documentation by removing the tedious process of manually checking documentation.
Having the facility audit ready does not need to be a constant cloud hanging over the head of the Quality Assurance department but something the entire plant helps to cultivate. By establishing a food safety culture, conducting internal audits, and being organized with a plan in place, food manufacturers can be food safety document audit ready at all times.
About The Author
Daria Van De Grift is the Client Success Manager at Document Compliance Network. Daria handles customer service inquiries, software program set up, and creates relevant scientific content to the team.
Daria has received both her bachelor's and master's degrees in Food Science and Technology from Oregon State University.
During both degrees at Oregon State University, she focused on dairy science and food safety. After completing her bachelor's, she worked for a dairy company in their Quality Assurance department, where she learned about the regulation and audits affecting the food industry.