Audits and Inspections
Effective auditing/inspection identifies, using measures of efficiency, that a food company has established and implemented a food safety management system, which is compliant with legislation, industry standards and works effectively, allowing for any non-conformance to be identified, acted on and the risk to the consumer removed.
An effective audit/inspection can only be as good as the person(s) conducting/undertaking the audit/inspection and that the auditor(s)/inspectors(s), themselves, are knowledgeable and have the necessary skill set to identify, where and if, a company has/can correctly identify the hazards associated within a particular process and can go on to use those skills to effectively communicate their findings to senior management, who in turn have the opportunity demonstrate their enthusiasm and commitment to resolve the issues and implement corrective actions as necessary.
Ideally the technical knowledge required by any food safety auditor /inspector would include all of the following:
- Knowledge of food safety and the pre-requisite programmes
- Hazard Analysis (HACCP)
- Technical skills
- A knowledge of microbiological testing
- Risk assessment and relevant hazards
- Product knowledge (physical, chemical, microbiological, allergenic)
- Processing characteristics
- Operations in use
- Internal and external standards
Planning for either an audit or an inspection requires resources and commitment from a multi-disciplinary perspective, including time, personnel and money. Furthermore, organisation plays a major role in the success or failure of any audit/inspection.
Consideration must be given to announced or unannounced audits/inspections. In many cases the audit/inspection are unannounced, therefore, a food company must be organised, plan and have a proactive approach to the likelihood of an unannounced audit/inspection and not reactive to an audit/inspection leading to complications and in some cases the possibility of loss of business.
Organising an audit/inspection programme:
Below is a list of factors that influence the programme and which require planning:
- How large and complex is the company?
- Are their multiple product/ foods and processes in operation?
- The audit scope
- Data and customer complaints
- Layout of the site
- Age of the site
- Previous audit and inspection reports
- Staffing numbers and issues relating to staff i.e. attitude to food safety culture
Types of Audit
Internal audits (First Party) are audits which are completed internally by a food business, usually one department will audit another department, to ensure there is compliance with internal standards and look to see where improvements can be made, or are necessary to ensure the company continues to be compliant.
External audits (Second Party) are audits arranged, where a company organises to audit there suppliers to confirm compliance with a set of their own internal standards.
External audits (Third Party) are conducted by a certification body, which will be paid for by the auditee. The purpose of this type of audit is to confirm the company is compliant with stated external standards and if successful will gain certification/award. The BRC Global Standards is an example of this type of audit.
Third party audits can be time consuming, therefore, planning and organising is a paramount requirement. A one day, 12 hour on-site audit will require a plan. An example is given below:
|Opening meeting||0.5 hours|
|Document review||1 hour|
|On-site inspection||3 hours|
|Lunch break||1 hour|
|Review of any addition documents and conclusion of the on-site inspection||4.5 hours|
|Analysis of the prepared data, additional data and prepare to close meeting||1 hour|
|Closing meeting||1 hour|
Audits are organised and be performed as set out in the standards, which may require a system of documents and checklists.
- Process flow diagrams
- Products/product groups
- Summary of CCP’s
- Management organisational charts
- Schedules/shift patterns
- Complaints records…and more.
Finally, regardless of the type of audit to be undertaken by a food company auditor must be aware of the factors that influence the audit/inspection process, keep their skills up to date and in turn reduce the risk of their skills being wanting which may lead to a claim of negligence and the possibility of criminal liability.
You only have to look back in time to see the most serious food poisoning outbreak in America (Listeria – Jensen Farms – Cantaloupe – Primus Labs) and see that the plant scored 96% in its audit, which resulted in 146 people ill and 30 people dead.
Closer to home we have the food poisoning outbreak in Wales (J Tudor – E.coli 0157:H7 – 157 ill – 1 five year old boy dead) Local Authority inspection re-licenced the HACCP plan)
Next time we will look at Auditor and Inspector Issues.
Pennine Training Services.