Is Your Facility Audit Ready?
By Aniket Choudhuri
If your company had an audit today, would you pass with flying colors? “Audit ready, everyday” should be the goal for every company. A robust written program, record-keeping requirements and overall compliant facility conditions should be part of the normal operating conditions.
For most companies, sustaining those compliant conditions all year round and not just during the audits is a challenge. Part of the outcome of a food safety audit is that it reveals powerful information about dealing with a worst-case-scenario situation while the stakes are still quite low. In one situation, a review of the internal emergency plan presented a scenario based on power failure. It didn’t take long for the facility team to realize that the backup generators for the freezer to store meat products was not on the preventative maintenance schedule. This was an easy fix.
Most authorities test for and enforce compliance to local legislation by conducting a food safety audit. To make sure your company’s food production processes pass the safety audit every time, you need to focus on the following areas:
Maintaining a hygienic production environment
For your production facility to meet food safety standards, it must be completely clean and hygienic. The easiest way to achieve this is to design a work environment that is easy to clean and maintain. Ensure the equipment and utensils you use are easy to clean, accessible from all angles and easy to disassemble, and prevent any dirt, dust or lubricant build up. Establish a robust sanitation program and regular cleaning schedule, which allows all areas of the facility to be cleaned and sanitized daily prior to production. Certain non-food contact surfaces such as ceilings, cooler floors, and overheads can be cleaned on a weekly or monthly basis defined by the facility and included in the written program, as well as the non-daily cleaning schedules.
A proper waste management and pest control program is crucial for food production companies to help prevent contamination and keep pests out of your facility. Using color coded bins and designated tools for inedible and waste materials will prevent cross-contamination of edible food products, and maintain a hygienic production environment.
Plant operators must also look after general product storage and handling hygiene. This includes keeping food at proper storage temperatures in coolers or freezers, and following the first-in, first out (FIFO) freshness principle, to ensure that no food stays in your facility longer than it should.
Audits involve interviewing employees on their roles and responsibilities. Your employees are key to ensuring that your food production processes meet legislative requirements. Food production facilities need to put measures in place that control how staff handle food products. Staff must be trained on following personal hygiene standards and food handling directives. They must also be trained on deviation procedures and thoroughly understanding their roles and responsibilities.
Employees must be trained on Good Manufacturing Procedures (GMPs), and training records must be kept on file. GMPs include using effective hand washing techniques before handling any food products or ingredients and packaging materials. Annual refresher trainings on GMPs should be incorporated in your food safety programs.
To ensure that your facility passes a food safety audit, employees must be able to explain their duties and record keeping activities to the auditors. Promoting a positive work culture where employees are able to bring forward deficiencies in the food safety program to the management is an essential part of being audit ready. Ensuring that you have back-up trained employees is always beneficial.
Record keeping and proper documentation
To prepare for a food safety audit, all relevant documentation must be in place and readily available when requested by the auditors. Managers and supervisors should conduct regularly documented reviews of food safety practices, with clear action plans on how to address any deviations and shortcomings. Not having an efficient way of filing verified documents or updated programs can be catastrophic for an audit.
Making sure your workplace and staff are geared to produce food in a safe and hygienic way, along with proper documentation to prove this will have you on the path to passing your food safety audit!
Conducting internal audits twice a year will ensure that your programs and deficiencies are being reviewed and updated or corrected. A review of the previous year’s audit report and any inspection reports is essential to correct any outstanding action items. By taking the time and effort to inspect your operations regularly, you can correct potential gaps and ensure that your operations and programs are in good shape before the inspector, auditor or customer arrives.
Being audit ready is not something that just happens overnight. Without having someone from your team constantly checking compliance, human nature kicks in and people generally prioritize activities based on their own benefits. Commitment from management, adequate training of staff and buy in from employees and stakeholders is required to become audit ready.