Beyond achieving compliance with the SQF program requirements, internal audits help drive continuous improvement and can facilitate a food safety culture throughout all levels of an organization. Gary Smith, Senior Technical Director at SAI Global, discusses 5 key factors to successfully conducting an internal audit.
What is the SQF Standard: Item 2.5.7 Internal Audit?
This requirement includes methods and responsibilities for scheduling and conducting internal audits to verify the effectiveness of the SQF system including facility and equipment inspections, PRPs, food safety plans, food quality plans, and regulation controls. Companies must have an internal audit schedule with scope and frequency and records of internal audits, corrections, and corrective actions. The internal audit must be conducted by staff trained in internal audit procedures and the audit results must be communicated to relevant management.
In the SQF program, a major nonconformance indicates a systematic failure where an element is failing or not existing. Some common major nonconformances include not having a schedule of internal audits, having verification and validation activities defined but not having an internal audit program, not having a facilitator for an internal audit program assigned, and having the internal audit only cover GMPs, but not the SQF system. Some of the minor nonconformances include not having an internal auditor training for the lead auditor, not defining how results are to be communicated to leadership, not taking corrective actions for internal audits, or not having records of corrective actions.
5 Keys to Success
- Reach out to leadership. Work with your leadership to define objectives of the internal audit program with management to facilitate management commitment. Build the internal audit program with management objectives. Remember, it’s not the QA’s program certification, it’s the entire company’s.
- Formalize the audit process. Set an audit schedule and keep to it. Assign an audit team with responsibilities. Use an audit checklist. Develop an audit plan. Conduct interviews during the audit. Conduct opening and closing meetings with staff.
- Communicate well. Regularly provide updates to leadership at routine meetings. Provide the audit plan and checklist to auditees one week prior to the audit. Take photos of good practices and nonconformances. Provide the audit results in a timely manner.
- Manage internal audits as its own program. Have standard operating procedures describing the responsibilities and procedures. Have the facilitator be trained as a lead auditor and appropriate training for all team members. Include as many people as possible in the audit team from all departments within the company.
- Use corrective action management program for all internal audit findings. Keep an internal log of all your internal nonconformances. Use root cause analysis to understand why nonconformances occur and include internal audit findings, regulatory audit findings, nonconforming products, and customer complaints in the corrective action management plan.
A strong internal audit program will help drive continuous improvement. It will help promote ownership of the entire SQF system and promote a food safety culture within the organization. Lastly, a strong internal audit program can improve the external audit score.
For more information, see this archived webinar: SQF 5 Tips for Conducting a Successful Internal Audit