Most companies undergo periodic external audits. Perhaps it might be a GMP/Food Safety Third Party Audit, a customer audit, a Food Safety Assessment (FSA) conducted by the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) or an audit for one of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) recognized schemes such as SQF Institute (SQF), BRC Global Standards (BRC) or Food Safety System Certification 22000 (FSSC 22000).
Frequently, when a company has an impending audit there is a flurry of activity to prepare for it. After the audit is completed you hear a sigh of relief, and things are forgotten until the next audit is impending—then the flurry of activity starts all over again. The correct way to do business is to be prepared on a daily basis for an audit. Constantly being prepared is critical for many companies because often customer audits are conducted unannounced. A good way to be prepared on an ongoing basis for an audit is to periodically conduct an internal company audit.
An internal company audit is conducted by a company employee and provides companies with regular feedback on deviations and opportunities for improvement. I feel it is a good idea for companies to conduct an internal audit on a monthly basis. Ideally, several employees are trained to conduct the internal audit so that it is not always the same person. It is very valuable to have a different set of eyes looking at things and to get the opinions of different people. Also one of the best ways to get people to “buy into something” is to have them be a part of it.
Develop an in-house form for your internal audit and keep them filed in a 3-ring notebook. They will provide documentation that you have completed internal audits and will serve as an excellent reference to track how your operation is functioning. Semi-annually your internal audit records should be reviewed by a designated person in upper management. Some of the things you should look at and document during your monthly internal audits include;
- Review SOP, SSOP and HACCP Records.
- Verify that correct procedures are being followed as per your GMPs, SOPs, SSOPs and HACCP Plans.
- Review any corrective actions that have been taken since your last internal audit.
- Verify and document that the correct forms are being used for SOP, SSOP and HACCP records.
- Review employee training records and verify that they are current.
- Tour inside of the plant and make note of any needed maintenance or repairs.
- View operations to confirm correct procedures are being followed. Document any deficiencies and corrective action taken.
- Tour outside of the plant and make note of any needed maintenance or repairs.
- Review your Plant Improvement Plan and make sure you are staying on schedule for improvements.
- Confirm that any deficiencies noted on the last internal audit have been corrected.
- Make sure whoever conducts your internal audit signs and dates the audit record.
Conducting routine internal audits will help you stay on track on an ongoing basis and minimize the possibility of having food safety and manufacturing problems. They will help you be better prepared for external audits and score higher on external audits.
Remember: Don’t just stand there, make something happen.