Gary Smith, FoodChain ID
FST Soapbox

Are Remote Audits Here to Stay?

By Gary Smith
1 Comment
Gary Smith, FoodChain ID

COVID-19 put audits on hold beginning in March as the industry looked to food safety leaders like GFSI to provide guidance on the pandemic’s impact for the auditing process.

Starting in late March, based on travel restrictions and the risk of COVID-19 infection transmission, GFSI released direction to the food industry on the possibility of recertification extensions. The extensions enabled a one-time, six-month grace period to prevent certification loss.

In June GFSI updated guidance to allow up to half of the recertification process to be completed off-site using remote technology, while requiring completion of an audit’s on-site inspection within 28 to 30 days. In exceptional circumstances, a certification program could allow a maximum of 90 days for the on-site audit portion. As these “blended” audits began, fewer facilities sought extensions.

The remote portion of an audit, which includes program and record review as well as interviews, may increase audit time compared to pre-COVID audits, as all involved adjust to the use of technology and accessible electronic formats for records and programs.

After COVID-19, it is conceivable to predict that a portion of the audit could remain virtual. However, in food production, auditing requires the use of sight, touch and smell, not yet replicated without human observation. And, while COVID-19 has forced an audit evolution by pushing “virtual” adoption based on business needs, remote capabilities will still require a significant investment in technology, time and re-education of the industry. In the meantime, expect audit schedules to be disrupted for the next 9 to 12 months.

As the industry seeks to adapt for the future, we will likely see an acceleration in terms of digitized quality management systems. In the short term, manufacturers are putting their energy and focus into keeping employees safe, maintaining production and meeting customer commitments.

Several leading food safety groups have issued guidance on best practices for blended audits and the use of technology. And while the answer to “Are blended audits are here to stay?” appears to be “yes” for the immediate future, audits are expected to evolve over time. Although certain sections within audits are better adapted to remote capabilities, facilities will continue to use on-site auditors until new technologies enable them to do otherwise.

Comments

  1. Richard Huang

    Hi Gary:

    As one who has now conducted a number of Remote QA Audits, I can attest they definitely take more time to do compared to an on-site visit.

    In your article you stated that “Several leading food safety groups have issued guidance on best practices for blended audits and the use of technology.” Can you provide the links to these groups so that I can gain additional insight moving forward?

    Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

I agree to these terms.