Preparing for a food safety audit can sometimes feel overwhelming. However, it doesn't have to be a daunting task. The purpose of these audits is to ensure that your food meets the highest standards and keeps your customers safe. Let's explore some steps that can help you confidently prepare for your next food safety audit:
Step 1. Familiarize yourself with applicable regulations
Depending on the type of regulatory body doing the audit you will need to review their specific standards. This could include local, state, and national regulations, as well as third-party audits such as SQF or BRC. The type of audit that you are going to have will dictate the level at which your food safety program needs to be. Audits like a HACCP Audit will need to be prepared differently than if you are going to be going through an SQF audit. All audits normally have a documentation section where you have to show the auditor that your facility is following the plan that they set in order to keep their food safe for consumers. Ensure that all your documents are organized in one efficient location for easy access and demonstrate compliance.
Step 2. Train employees
Food safety is not just the quality department’s job. Every employee is responsible and may be asked to participate in an audit. All employees need to be trained in food safety practices for their area in the facility. This includes reviewing Good Manufacturing Practices, sanitation procedures, and microbiological hazards. Regularly reinforcing food safety awareness through quick meetings or brief sessions at the start of shifts can help keep employees up to date on expectations. Keep detailed records of training activities and certifications to showcase your commitment to ongoing education.
Step 3. Review the food safety plan
When reviewing your food safety plan for an audit you want to verify that want is written matches what is being done in your facility. Another part of reviewing your food safety plan is evaluating your risk assessments with suppliers and/or ingredients. Along with making updates to your plan as needed, you will need to check and make sure that your supporting documents are correct. This plan should address how your facility handles chemical, biological, and physical hazards for your product. This plan should include a hazard analysis, supplier and ingredient risk assessment, and control measures to mitigate these hazards such as a flow chart indicating Critical Control Points. This plan covers the whole facility, which includes receiving, storage, processing, packaging, and distribution.
Step 4. Maintain Documentation
To validate your food safety plan you must maintain accurate internal records and up-to-date documentation related to the different parts of your plan. Your internal records could be temperature logs at critical control points, cleaning and sanitation schedules, and routine pest control activities. Documentation related to your food safety plan could include your supplier verification program and new ingredient approval. Ensure that these records are easily accessible, and consider using electronic methods for requesting and storing documents to streamline the process.
Document Compliance Network (DCN) is a tool that will help you with this. DCN takes away the guesswork when it comes to documentation. It stores all your documents in one searchable and centralized place. That way you know that you have all current documents right at your fingertips.
Step 5. Verify Suppliers
A significant part of the audit is evaluating your suppliers and establishing the traceability of your finished goods. Test your supplier approval program and ensure that your suppliers meet the necessary food safety requirements. Keep records of supplier approvals, certifications, and regular audits conducted by your team. DCN really helps take this off your plate when it comes to audit prep. DCN automatically reaches out to suppliers for their food safety documents on your behalf without you needing to lift a finger. DCN will keep your documents from your suppliers up to date and ready at a moment’s notice if needed. Just imagine walking into an audit already having the correct documentation!
Step 6. Conduct Mock Audits
Performing mock audits before the official one can greatly improve your programs and boost confidence among your team These audits help to identify any gaps in your systems and provides an opportunity to fix them before the official audit. If any non-conformities are identified during the mock audit, make sure you document it, address it, and validate your fix. This will show the auditor that you are continually testing and improving your program.
Adopting a proactive approach is key to successful food safety audits. Stay updated on regulations and changes to standards, prioritize continuous training for employees, and create a culture that keeps the highest standards of food safety. Using a software program like DCN will free up time in your already busy schedule to focus on other parts of audit preparations. Remember, everyone in your organization plays a vital role in ensuring a successful audit.
Bonus Step: Conduct a Self-Audit
Take advantage of the already published standards by all the regulatory bodies. You can use this to perform an internal audit of your facility to identify any potential areas of non-compliance. This includes reviewing your food safety management system, standard operating procedures (SOPs), sanitation practices, training records, and supplier food safety documentation. This can also be a great way to base your daily, weekly, and monthly internal audits. That way you have a continuous assessment of your program!