A soldier would not go into battle without the appropriate protective clothing, weapon, being in good health, and undergone rigorous training. An audit is like going into battle and we don’t just mean the physical and emotional toll that they can sometimes take! The preparation of documents and records all stock-piled in the war room, are your weapons. Your team is following GMPs and personal hygiene practices which is literally your protective gear. At the heart and health of your operation and the products you produce is the Food Safety Plan. Lastly the training of the entire team based on their rank and position on the battlefield of food safety are in place. But with all of this firmly in place, we must remember your Audits are not a fight but a well-strategized plan of attack to produce a successful outcome and safe, wholesome products for our customers and consumers. Also, consider your auditor not as your enemy but as the General – proving to them that you and your team are prepared and ready to show compliance, which is ultimately winning half the battle!
How can companies truly improve their audit scores? What strategies have been used to impact the greatest change and cultural shift when preparing for and undergoing audits? These are questions we all ask ourselves in an effort to become leaders and not just soldiers in our organizations. Although there are no perfect answers to these questions, we have gathered industry best practices that may provide some guidance that can be applied for your upcoming audit.
Top 10 Strategies to Improve your Food Safety Audit Scores
If you’re currently certified or looking to achieve certification, we encourage you to join us in this insightful webinar. Food safety has been always an important issue, and during this webinar we’ll discuss the Top 10 Strategies to Help you to Improve your Audit Scores.
1. Be Prepared
Above all things, preparation is truly key to success when done well and with purpose. The following are areas that should be part of this process:
- Documents and records are organized and align with the audit standard through numbering, clause by clause verification, and quickly available.
- Good Manufacturing Practices and Employee Hygiene are well established throughout the organization and not just when someone’s watching.
- Food Safety Plan(s) represent all products produced, meets regulatory requirements, and has been robustly challenged and reassessed and not just glossed over.
- Team training is relevant, up-to-date, effective, and direct observations of understanding.
- Mentally prepare yourself and the team with a positive approach that rewards and encourages all to be ‘audit ready’ every day.
2. Learn from the Past and Don’t Repeat
Once an audit is completed, corrective actions submitted and closed, we tend to forget about the non-conformances. We have selective amnesia about our past which can create a lack of focus for verifying that preventive actions are put in place and have resolved the issue for the future.
- Prior non-conformances must be re-verified before an audit to ensure that actions put in place are still working as intended.
- Root cause analysis is used to dig deeper into a problem and get at the real issues so actions taken will be effective.
- Non-conformances have not re-occurred or have shown up in a different way which reaffirms confidence in the system.
3. Provide Objective Evidence
An auditor’s role is to obtain and evaluate objective evidence throughout the audit. This evidence comes in the form of documents, records, interviews, and observations. The site’s responsibility is to provide access to this objective evidence and show proof of compliance.
- Documents – policies, procedures, plans, schedules, and work instructions.
- Records – accurate, complete, legible, not altered, conducted in real-time and represent the program has been implemented and is effective.
- Observations – witnessing the flow, process, people, and practices will help the auditor assess compliance; it’s a tool your team can use.
- Interviews – employees that hold key food safety roles (CCP/PC), support roles (receiving/shipping), positions of authority (supervisors/leads), and others will need to be prepared to provide information through Q&A.
4. The Power or Data
The ability to understand risk and to find improvements starts with the data that is already in your possession. We tend to look at data in its own category (e.g. complaints, hold logs) and not necessarily compare and contrast the data. We need to cast a wider net to see what the data trying to tell you – sometimes it shouts at you and sometimes it is just a whisper
- Evaluate trends from customer complaints, hold logs, environmental results, internal audit scores, pre-operational inspections. Are there any trends or similarities?
- Evaluate occurrence over a period of time (monthly, quarter or even last year). Are there themes or root causes?
- Communicate findings from the evaluation and put meaningful action steps in place to reduce the chance of non-conforming issues and then re-verify they are working.
5. Food Safety Culture is not just a Buzz Word
It is the shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mind-set and behavior toward food safety in, across and throughout an organization. It is crucial to the success of programs, training, and adopting an approach that engages employees at all levels. Putting food safety culture into action only takes a few early steps to gain momentum.
- Leadership supports growth through training, continuous improvements, providing resources, and leading by example.
- Employees are engaged and empowered to ensure food safety in all that they do, while feeling a sense of accomplishment through positive reinforcement.
- Creating a collaborative effort – not just a few team members audit but shared accountability and rewards across the business.
When everyone in your company is working towards one goal, you will see lasting and positive change that can have a huge impact on all aspects of the business – and yes improve your audit scores!