Retailors evaluate the compliance and performance of their food suppliers against their chosen standards. Various standards can be used such as the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Food Standard Issue 8 and Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) 22000. Smaller food business might have to deal with a lot of food safety audits, have a couple of people for several days with a particular customer.
In the previous blog, we have advised examples of typical documents and records to be reviewed when external auditors auditing a food manufacturing plant. However, understanding what the food safety auditors look at is not enough, understanding what they are looking for is important to help you reduce the non-conformance.
You may ask what’s the difference between ‘look at’ and ‘look for’?
Look at and look for
Look at – what is examined
– E.g. Look at records of temperatures during product processing or storage.
Look for – what aspect of it are examined
– E.g.: Look for completeness, evidence of alteration, evidence of authenticity, and profiles/patterns/trends in results.
Observations – what to look for
When conduct observations on-site during a food safety audit, auditors might look at below 5 areas:
What the auditors might look for in these areas? Below are some examples:
- The correct type the required accuracy?
- In good condition and is calibrated?
- Can the calibration be tracked back to specific instruments?
- Is the equipment used?
- Is the equipment clean? Do food contact surfaces facilitate cleaning?
- Is maintained to minimize contamination?
- signs of wear and tear or damage from pests?
- Used as specified in the documentation?
- Materials used in good condition?
- Is there full traceability for all materials?
- Any signs of wear and tear or damage from pests?
- Adequately trained? Competent to do their job?
- Personnel hygiene? Behaviours of colleagues?
- Personnel working in high risk /high care areas undergone an annual medical check?
- Have actions been taken to minimize the risks of products becoming contaminated by personnel when returning to work?
- Hygienically designed, constructed and maintained to prevent contamination risks and impact the effectiveness of cleaning and pest control program?
- Sufficient lighting to allow for inspection?
- Are premises and equipment clean?
Practices – observe key process activities: e.g. site operations, materials handling and storage, waste disposal and storage facilities, maintenance of equipment, etc.
- Food being handled hygienically?
- Observed practices correspond with SOPs or other documented requirement?
Document review – what to look for:
When auditors look at your food safety management system document, what would they look for? Below are some examples:
- Are approved and reviewed for suitability and adequacy?
- Current, correct, consistent and complete (4Cs of document)?
- Are used/followed?
- Identified? (numbered, dated)
- Changes adequately controlled? (version control)
- Distribution adequate and controlled?
- Are records reliable and valid?
- Adequately protected? (e.g.: from loss of confidentiality, improper use, or loss of integrity)
- Have appropriate corrective actions been taken? Exploring further, when experienced auditor look at the corrective actions, they look for permanent solutions that work and remove the cause of the problem, e.g. management failures, inadequate training and no effective systems – relate findings to where solution lies (I will explain more in the application of the Root Cause Analysis technique in finding permanent solutions in another article).
You can improve the food safety internal auditing and inspection skills by joining our Highfield level 3 auditing and inspection course. If you have concerns about the readiness of your customer audit but may not have time to attend the training, we provide a gap analysis service against the food safety standards you use. We can help you identify the areas for improvement of your food safety management system before your customer audit to help reduce the likelihood of non-conformance.