Ask the Compliance Expert: Unannounced Audits

By Sangita Viswanathan
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Do you know when your next unannounced audit will be? And can a site refuse entry to an auditor? In this Q&A, Jane Pappin of Cert-ID provides some answers.

Food companies are now handling and preparing for increased number of inspections and audits. Food safety rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act have proposed unannounced audits of food facilities as a way to include another level of security to ensure that these facilities are compliant with the various standards. Such audits, regulators hope, will give a more realistic picture of compliance, rather than facilities appearing to comply just the day of the inspection.

Food companies that have been abiding by all the requirements of the specific food safety standard don’t have to do anything differently than what they have been doing all along, says Jane Pappin, Certification Director at Cert-ID: “If they have a strong food safety and quality management program in place, have been conducting regular internal audits, and gap analysis etc., they shouldn’t have anything to worry about. The auditor is not going ask anything that they would be unprepared for,” she adds.

We present below excerpts from a Q&A with Pappin.

Q: How will my site know if our next audit is unannounced or not?

A: SQF has indicated that the Certification Body (CB) is responsible for telling the site when their unannounced audit will be. As the CB is charged with reminding the site of their upcoming renewal audit approximately three to five months in advance of the re-audit due date, the site could be informed then.

Once the site is told when their unannounced audit will be, there is opportunity to negotiate black-out dates – these are only for days when the site will not be in production. The unannounced audit will always take place within the site’s renewal audit window, which is from 30 days before the site’s re-audit due date (which is listed on your certificate) to 30 days after the re-audit due date. 

A site must have one unannounced audit per three-year cycle. For those sites already certified, their first unannounced audit will take place either in 2014 (from July 3 to Dec 31), 2015 or 2016 and they will be informed by their CB which year it will be in. Their second unannounced audit will take place in either 2017, 2018 or 2019, and so on. Once your unannounced audit year is determined, this will be recorded in SQF’s Reliance Database. Even if you change CBs, this information will go with your facility’s profile and your unannounced audit year will not change.

Q: What happens if the auditor arrives for the unannounced audit and the site refuses entry?

A: The ramifications of disallowing the auditor entry to your facility are far reaching: First, you will still be charged for the visit, including auditor expenses. Second, your facility will immediately be put into suspension. Third, an announced audit must now take place no later than 30 days from the date you denied entry to the auditor. If this doesn’t happen, your certification will be withdrawn. Fourth, because you were put into suspension, you will also be required to have a surveillance audit six months after the 30 day audit. Fifth and last, your next audit will then be your unannounced audit.

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