How To Do An Effective Food Safety Audit
There are many benefits of carrying out regular audits, which include; honest self-assessment, giving feedback to management and identifying whether the systems, processes and procedures in place are working and meet the required objectives. Audits should be proactive rather than reactive, and can identify potential future problems before they occur. Whether you are responsible for internal audits of your food premises, a third party auditor, or verifying HACCP and Food Safety Management Systems, here are some practical tips for carrying out an effective audit.
- Identify and ensure the competency of the auditor. The auditor / inspector should be highly knowledgeable and competent in food safety and HACCP (or the specific area which is to be audited). The auditor must be in full agreement about what is to be covered and the standards and set criteria thereof. This applies to internal as well as external audits.
- Before carrying out an audit it is essential to plan ahead! It has been said many times: “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. Planning is vital to a successful and effective audit. As well as establishing the clear aims and objectives of the inspection, planning should take into account practical things like; the size and complexity of the business, the amount of travelling involved, site restrictions (such as opening times etc.), level of in-house expertise and any language barriers of staff.
- Communication is an integral part of carrying out an audit. It is important that the auditor communicates clearly and concisely. Be polite, affable, and professional. Don’t be overly familiar or effusive, but at the same time do not be too serious or austere. When verbally questioning staff and auditees make use of open, leading, and sympathetic questioning techniques. A good auditor will not just check, but will watch, listen, and ask questions. When talking to employees do not become side-tracked or distracted. While some ‘small talk’ is acceptable and sometimes necessary, always stick to the point.
- The auditor should be impartial, fair and objective, and act with integrity.
- Be methodical and systematic. Carry out the audit in a coherent manner. For example, the auditor should go through what they are auditing in a logical order from the beginning to the end. It’s more than merely being guided through mechanically by the audit checklist! It’s really about linking things together and checking the process meets the procedure, and the corresponding documentation. Always take notes as you go, whether written or on a smartphone, iPad or tablet.
- The auditor should take photographs as and when necessary – but only of what is relevant to the audit. What can’t speak can’t lie! Again, best on a smaller device such as an iPad or smartphone, rather than a large camera. We tend to use the iPhone 6s, which are discreet and have a good built in camera.
- If an audit is carried out at a busy time – don’t get in the way and definitely do not spend time interviewing people. Most of the time should be spent observing working practices. Also, do not stay longer than necessary. As soon as the objectives have been met you should depart. On the other hand, never leave until you have made sufficient judgement and your outcomes have been achieved.
- It is fundamental that auditors keep up to date with latest industry trends, scientific and epidemiological research and information. For example, within the context of a food business, the threat of Campylobacter in raw chicken is a greater problem today than salmonella. Advice may change as understanding increases.
- Always write up the audit report in a timely manner. This should be as close to the event as possible. Ensure that you write concisely and clearly. Avoid emotive or ‘flowery’ language. Write as dispassionately as possible. Opinions are fine, as long as they can be substantiated and are pertinent; however, reports should be written on fact and backed up by quantifiable and empirical evidence. Give clear recommendations and prioritised timescales which are practical, measurable, and achievable. Actions which need addressing immediately or within a few days should be dealt with and remedied at the time of visit, following verbal advice. However, it’s still good practice to record this in your report.
- When giving recommendations, it is very important that the auditor clearly distinguishes between recommendations based on best practice and legal requirements. Inexperienced auditors often get the two confused!