Amid continuing threats to our food supply, food businesses should understand how tech tools can help improve all facets of their operations—from increasing sustainability to ensuring their suppliers are committed to safety and quality. In the coming year, more operators will rely on technology to save money, reduce waste, improve training, boost accuracy, and make more informed business decisions.
The good news is that tech solutions have become more affordable and accessible for food businesses of all sizes. Therefore, digital solutions will become more widely used in the coming year, as food businesses ditch their manual systems and/or disjointed tech stacks that don’t provide holistic views of their enterprise in favor of modern, integrated, intuitive tools.
Following are some of the key challenges that necessitate a shift to new technologies.
The Need for Sustainable Food Production
Climate change is putting food production at risk. Extreme weather is destroying traditionally grown crops and, moving forward, there will be a renewed effort around sustainable food production, including efforts such as vertical farming, hydroponics, and aquaponics.
The food industry must leverage technology to address multiple issues, from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to changing the way we grow food. Faster innovation is essential to make farming more sustainable, create new infrastructure, reduce our dependence on foreign food supplies, increase the transparency all along the supply chain, and reduce risk from farm to table.
Quality and Accuracy are King
Integrated software can boost accuracy, which will elevate a variety of critical metrics, including revenue, safety, quality and customer loyalty. Tech tools help you plan better, track inventory, monitor customer preference, and anticipate upcoming needs by tracking key metrics across your enterprise. Remember, if you don’t measure accuracy, you can’t improve it. Additionally, if there are accuracy problems, these tools can help you identify if you have one problematic employee or if there are more widespread problems at a specific location (or locations). Based on this data, you can take corrective actions, including increasing training and adjusting processes.
Training Will Change
Historically, food businesses trained employees by explaining how things should be done, then expected staff to do exactly what they learned. But what if you thought about training differently? What if you used tech tools to provide critical information in bite-sized chunks to boost employees’ understanding? What if you sent information right to their phones so they always have resources at their fingertips? Then, you could use automated reminders to ensure they don’t forget a crucial safety check during a busy shift.
One important change that’s expected to trend in the coming year is building collaborative cultures versus punitive ones. It’s important that employees feel encouraged to ask questions, seek feedback, and be empowered to take ownership of safety and quality efforts. Train, practice, demonstrate, and reinforce to boost employee confidence and retention, using tech tools to reinforce these lessons.
The Supply Chain Will Become More Transparent
It’s critical to implement safety and quality protocols for your business, but that alone is not enough. Every food business must also inspect safety, quality, and traceability all along their supply chain, as well. Thanks to more affordable, accessible tech tools, this is now possible for brands of all sizes and budgets, and you can get started without a big investment. Focus on what the regulations require and use digital solutions to seamlessly manage your vendors’ safety and QA certifications. Today’s solutions allow you to organize and track this important information in a centralized location for quick, easy access.
Food Businesses Will Audit Differently
Remote brand protection grew in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, as companies needed alternative ways to protect their locations/facilities when travel restrictions prohibited them from physically reaching them for audits or inspections. Now that the pandemic is over, expect food businesses to continue auditing differently.
Maybe it’s unrealistic to reach all your locations regularly, or it’s cost prohibitive to send in-person auditors to numerous locations multiple times per year. Tech solutions can save quality teams as much as 70% of their current program budgets, which is a huge win at a time when every dollar counts.
Increasingly, food businesses will ditch the paper checklists for more efficient, accurate, transparent, and frequent auditing, including self-assessments. Digital solutions will help ensure that every safety and quality check is done regularly (and properly). The days of relying solely on annual third-party inspections are over. Now, food businesses are embracing a combination of third-party and remote inspections plus frequent self-inspections to maximize safety and minimize risks.
It can feel overwhelming to try and manage all aspects of your organization’s safety and quality programs while also navigating the ongoing problems that are putting our food production at risk. Food businesses will have to work hard to keep the lights on and deliver products (and promises) to customers. Tech solutions will make all aspects of your business operations easier, faster, and more accurate, while also boosting safety and quality.
Food Safety as a Supply Chain Management Problem, with John Spink, Ph.D., Michigan State University
Supplier Certification in Today’s Supplier Quality Management Programs: A Discussion with Gary van Breda, McDonald’s; Jorge Hernandez, Wendy’s; and moderated by Kari Hensien, RizePoint; Sponsored by RizePoint
What Needs to Change in Food Safety Certification: A GFSI Panel Discussion moderated by Erica Sheward, GFSI
Auditing Update in the Age of COVID: FDA Standards and Regulations Alignment Pilot, with Trish Wester, AFSAP
This year’s event occurs as a Spring program and a Fall program. Haven’t registered? Follow this link to the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, which provides access to all the episodes featuring critical industry insights from leading subject matter experts! Registration includes access to both the Spring and the Fall events. We look forward to your joining us virtually.
SQF Q&A with Shawna Wagner, CP-FS, Food Sector Technical Manager, North America
SQF Auditor of the Year 2019
FSSC 22000 Q&A with Isabella D’Adda, DNV GL Global Food & Beverage Manager
BRCGS Q&A with Veronica Ramos, DNV GL Lead Auditor, BRCGS Auditor of the Year 2020 award winner
Can we have 100% remote audits?
Shawna Wagner (on SQF): SQF does permit conducting an audit at 100% using ICT. Audits using ICT are not mandatory. This option must be a last resort option, as full onsite and the 50/50 blended option (50% onsite and 50% remote) shall be the first options. A feasibility assessment with a certified organization is needed to verify that a full remote audit is an effective and practical option. An SQF Fully Remote Audit only applies to announced re-certification and/or surveillance audits of the SQF Food Safety and/or Quality Codes. It does not apply to initial certification audits or unannounced re-certification audits.
SQF Fully Remote Audit certification can be applied to the following SQF Codes:
SQF Food Safety Code for Food Manufacturing
SQF Food Safety Code for Storage and Distribution
SQF Food Safety Code for Manufacture of Food Packaging
SQF Food Safety Code for Primary Production
SQF Quality Code
Isabella D’Adda (on FSSC 22000): Yes, 100% remote audits are now allowed also for FSSC 22000. On the 5th of October, 2020 FSSC published a new document called “Full Remote Audit Addendum” that explains the conditions and the rules for conducting FSSC 22000 audits fully remotely. This document is valid and applicable only, when a certified organization cannot be accessed due to a serious event – as in the case of a pandemic.
The FSSC 22000 full remote audits are completed using Information and Communication Technology (ICT); these will be accredited audits, which will not be recognized by GFSI – the transparency of the certification process is always granted, that’s why the certificate that will be issued after these kind of audits will have a specific reference that a Full Remote Audit was conducted.
Before conducting a 100% remote audit, a certification body must evaluate an impact of the serious event on the current certificate and certification status, and conduct a feasibility assessment with the certified organization in order to verify that a full remote audit is an effective and practical option.
The FSSC 22000 full remote audits can be done when annual announced surveillance/periodical or recertification audits cannot take place on-site. But not for Stage 2 Initial audits. Note: even during the 100% Remote audits, auditors need to spend about 50% of the time on documents and records evaluation, and the rest of the audit time on performing video plant tours and interviews.
The addendum to the standard called “FSSC 22000 Annex 9” is still valid in cases where a certification body and an organization agree that it is more appropriate and effective to conduct an audit in two steps: document review and interviews with key personnel remotely, using information and communication technology (ICT), then audit implementation and perform verification of the food management system on-site, with a time-lapse between the two steps.
In the case of the first certification, the FSSC 22000 Annex 9 can be applied and the whole stage 1 audit can be conducted remotely, while the subsequent stage 2 audit will be conducted on-site at least within 6 months after stage 1. For all other audits, according to Annex 9, part of an audit can be conducted remotely, and the rest of the activity completed onsite, considering that the onsite audit cannot have a duration less than 1 day and shall be at least 50% of the total audit duration.
Veronica Ramos (on BRCGS): The rules have been changing recently for the BRCGS standards. These rules are published in the Position Statement BRCGS 078, 080 and 086 (www.brcgs.com) – and these are applicable only for already certified sites. Currently, all certified sites, whose certificates can be affected due to COVID-19 in respect to travel restrictions and internal rules of receiving external visitors to the sites, can opt to any of the following three options:
Request a certificate extension for six months with a COVID-19 risk assessment (see Position Statement BRCGS 072);
Request their re-certification audit with the “blended audit” modality (see Position Statement BRCGS 080) – where a remote audit (using ICT electronic systems) is combined with an on-site audit for re-certifications;
Request the new temporary modality to conduct 100% of an audit remotely (according to the Position Statement BRCGS 086).
This is only applicable for announced audits. It is considered that the best option is to conduct a regular on-site audit or to go with the blended audit option, because an auditor can have a better opportunity to confirm the level of compliance on-site. The on-site audit part should be of at least 1.0 day duration, while the remote part shall not exceed 50% of the total audit duration. Note: full (100%) remote re-certification audits must replicate the exact methodology of a regular audit, including plant tours and interviews, however, it must be first verified that electronic devices and communication means can be used successfully. Also, one should be aware that 100% remote audits are not GFSI benchmarked, but are accredited. Please contact your lead auditor or certification body for more information.
What can be audited during the remote portion?
Wagner (on SQF): For SQF we would focus mainly on Module 2 items, such as Food safety policy, Management Reviews, Approved Supplier Program, Specifications, Validations, Verifications, and Training for the 50/50 blended audit. The 100% remote audit shall include all steps associated with an SQF Systems audit including the opening and closing meetings and discussion and agreement on non-conformities.
D’Adda (on FSSC 22000): When an audit is 100% remote, the whole activity will be done using an appropriate ICT. The audit will follow the same format and organization as an on-site one and, in any case, an auditor must be able to complete the full audit against all FSSC 22000 requirements: also during these audits a possibility to do interviews with personnel must be granted, an appropriate site inspection of all production areas, facilities, storage and external areas must be completed, implementation of PRPs must be verified, documentation must be evaluated with involvement of all management and staff, who manages the food safety system.
A fully remote audit can be conducted only, when a site is operational, and production is taking place.
For FSSC 22000 fully remote audits, it is advisable to provide supporting information to an auditor before an audit takes place. Documentation, such as site maps, updated flow diagrams, a list and overview of OPRPs/CCPs, any changes, caused by a serious event, and any other supporting information regarding the production process will be useful during an audit.
For audits done 50% remotely and 50% on-site there is the following process: during the remote part, focus will be on the ISO 22000 components of the FSSC 22000 scheme and interviews with management and key personnel. An auditor will review documents and procedures, check management review with specific focus on FSMS objectives and key process performance indicators, HACCP plan, internal audits, complaints and recalls, and how these were managed, focusing on key changes since the previous audit (applicable in the case of periodic audits and re-certification).
Ramos (on BRCGS): During the remote part of a blended audit focus should be on the information included in the documents and records: an auditor would need information on implementation and maintenance of the requirements since the last audit (meaning that samples of records, which could be requested, could be for the last twelve months). Most of the BRCGS standards are color coded, clearly indicating, which are the expected requirements to be audited against on-site, and which can be audited against remotely (e.g. management review, internal audits, complaints, recalls, etc.). But as mentioned before, everything will need to be audited, if the option selected is 100% remotely.
Who should attend the remote portion?
Wagner (on SQF): We would look at this audit no differently than as if we were onsite. It would be recommended that whichever employee is responsible for the section being audited that they attend. Employees could also be interviewed during a remote audit. This should be discussed with key personnel at the opening meeting.
D’Adda (on FSSC 22000): During remote audit both management and involved key personnel shall be available to support the auditor in his/her activity. Companies should cooperate and provide adequate resources to ensure the audit is conducted successfully.
Ramos (on BRCGS): During a remote audit both management and involved key staff shall be available to support the auditor in his activity.
What documents should we have ready for the remote portion?
Wagner (on SQF): Documents would be the same as if it were an onsite audit. All documentation should be made readily available to the auditor during the time of the remote portion and/or onsite portion of the audit.
D’Adda (on FSSC 22000): The documents that should be available for the remote audit are the same, as the ones requested for ISO 22000 implementation, like context analysis, food safety management system with its defined scopes, products and processes that are included and the objectives of the FSMS, food safety policy, HACCP Plan, management review, updated internal audits and all procedures that a company has documented, which are necessary for the effectiveness of their food safety management system.
Ramos (on BRCGS): All types of documents in their latest updated version shall be readily accessible. It is up to an auditor to request documentation, which is required to fulfil the objectives of an audit within its scope. Documents could be manuals, procedures, work instructions, templates of records, and actual records.
Can we send documents ahead of time?
Wagner (on SQF): It is not required that documents be sent ahead of time, although in some cases this could be helpful for the site and the auditor. Information that is sent ahead of time would be confidential and not audited until the actual audit.
D’Adda (on FSSC 22000): It is not required to send documents ahead of time, however all documents must be prepared and available for the planned audit dates, remote or onsite. There are some organizations, which want to share information in advance and show potentially useful examples, such as master list of documents, flow diagrams, maps, or a summary of preliminary answers to key requirements/topics. This information will not be audited until the actual audit (remote or on-site) starts. Thus, this information will be handled as confidential. As a representative of a certified organization, one should know that during an audit, it is up to auditors to request certain information, which may help to get proper evidence, needed to fulfill objectives of the audit.
Ramos (on BRCGS): It is not required to send documents in advance, however there are some organizations, who want to share information beforehand to demonstrate examples, which might be useful during an audit, such as master list of documents, flow diagrams, maps, or a summary of preliminary answers to the key requirements/topics. This information will not be audited until the actual audit (remote or on-site) starts. Such information will be handled as confidential. As a certified organization, one should know that it is up to auditors to request certain information, which may help to get proper evidence, needed to fulfil the audit objectives, during an audit.
Is my information confidential?
Wagner (on SQF): All information that is sent shall be confidential and follows DNV GLs Information Security Policy.
D’Adda (on FSSC 22000): All DNV GL auditors received specific training on how to manage remote audits and treat confidential information in accordance with the DNV GL’s Information Security Policy.
Ramos (on BRCGS): All DNV GL auditors received specific training on how to manage remote audits and treat confidential information, in accordance with the DNV GL’s Information Security Policy and confidentiality agreements signed with customers.
When does the onsite portion need to happen?
Wagner (on SQF): The onsite needs to happen within 30 days of the remote portion. Both audits must occur within the 60-day audit window for SQF.
D’Adda (on FSSC 22000): In the case of fully remote audits, there won’t be an onsite auditing activity, and it will be completed using ICT equipment. In the case of an audit done partially remotely and partially on-site: FSSC has defined that the maximum timeline between a remote audit and the on-site portion shall be 30 calendar days. In the case of a serious event, this timeline can be extended to 90 calendar days, but only after a documented concession process and risk assessment have been completed by a certification body. Serious events that could lead to a postponement of the onsite portion of an audit are pandemic emergencies like Covid-19, legal proceedings, prosecutions, affecting food safety or legality, public food safety events (e.g. public recalls, calamities etc.), natural disasters (e.g. floods, fire, earthquake), war or political instability and other serious situations, like malicious hacking.
Ramos (on BRCGS): It is expected that in a blended audit the remote part is conducted first and then the on-site part, however, if logistics require that the audit is conducted in the reverse order, this is acceptable as well. The second part of a blended audit needs to happen within the following 28 calendar days, allowing enough time for a site to do a non-conformity closure (when applicable), and a re-certification decision can be issued before the expiration date of the current certificate. In exceptional justifiable circumstances, a certification body may request a concession from BRCGS for a maximum of 90 days. In the case of a 100% remote audit, the full audit shall be conducted as scheduled on consecutive full days.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookies should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for these cookie settings.
We use tracking pixels that set your arrival time at our website, this is used as part of our anti-spam and security measures. Disabling this tracking pixel would disable some of our security measures, and is therefore considered necessary for the safe operation of the website. This tracking pixel is cleared from your system when you delete files in your history.
If you visit and/or use the FST Training Calendar, cookies are used to store your search terms, and keep track of which records you have seen already. Without these cookies, the Training Calendar would not work.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.
A browser cookie is a small piece of data that is stored on your device to help websites and mobile apps remember things about you. Other technologies, including Web storage and identifiers associated with your device, may be used for similar purposes. In this policy, we say “cookies” to discuss all of these technologies.
Data generated from cookies and other behavioral tracking technology is not made available to any outside parties, and is only used in the aggregate to make editorial decisions for the websites. Most browsers are initially set up to accept cookies, but you can reset your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent by visiting this Cookies Policy page. If your cookies are disabled in the browser, neither the tracking cookie nor the preference cookie is set, and you are in effect opted-out.
In other cases, our advertisers request to use third-party tracking to verify our ad delivery, or to remarket their products and/or services to you on other websites. You may opt-out of these tracking pixels by adjusting the Do Not Track settings in your browser, or by visiting the Network Advertising Initiative Opt Out page.
You have control over whether, how, and when cookies and other tracking technologies are installed on your devices. Although each browser is different, most browsers enable their users to access and edit their cookie preferences in their browser settings. The rejection or disabling of some cookies may impact certain features of the site or to cause some of the website’s services not to function properly.
The use of online tracking mechanisms by third parties is subject to those third parties’ own privacy policies, and not this Policy. If you prefer to prevent third parties from setting and accessing cookies on your computer, you may set your browser to block all cookies. Additionally, you may remove yourself from the targeted advertising of companies within the Network Advertising Initiative by opting out here, or of companies participating in the Digital Advertising Alliance program by opting out here.