Third-party audits are critically important to food companies. They are the primary tool your customers use to determine if adequate food safety systems are in place. This article covers some of the strategies and tactics you should employ to maximize your chances of a successful audit.
Does This Scenario Sound Familiar?
A big audit is coming up. The plant has been preparing for months and this is the final team meeting before the auditor arrives. At some point during the meeting the plant manager turns to the QA manager and says, “Are you ready for the audit?” The QA manager swallows hard and responds, “As ready as we are going to be.”
So much stress and so much pressure just to get a “good score”. Corporate wants to know what happened before the auditor even leaves the plant. Performance evaluations, raises, year-end bonuses and sometimes even jobs are at risk. It’s no wonder people worry about audits so much.
What if I told you it doesn’t have to be that stressful? It doesn’t if you implement some of the things I have learned over the years.
What Is an Audit?
I informally define an audit as verification that things are being performed to established rules. Those rules can be a customer contract, an audit scheme such as SQF or government regulatory standards. For this article, we are going to talk specifically about independent third-party audits.
Who Is an Auditor?
An auditor is a person.
It’s easy to forget sometimes. They are people with their own story, training and experience. They may be a retired QA director from a major food company with decades of experience. They may be a former plant QA manager in the automotive industry with no food experience. This may be their first audit. They have a story and that will influence your audit.
Few people know that you can choose who audits you. Make sure the person who is coming in to evaluate your plant has the right experience and temperament to work with you. Ask the audit company to provide you with three to five resumes of auditors that they would like to send to your facility. Arrange for interviews with them and choose the one that fits best. You are looking for the right mix of experience and temperament. You don’t have to take who they want to send.
What Is an Audit About?
An audit is an answer to a series of specific questions and how you meet them. This is key to how you should approach an audit. The PDCA model is an ideal way to remember this point (see Figure 1).
- Plan: What are the rules of the game?
- Do: What is your procedure?
- Check: What proof do you have that it was done?
- Act: What happens if it is not correct?
Let’s address these one at a time.