By Shamonique Schrick
With a growing emphasis on food safety and quality in an increasingly complex global food system, manufacturers are looking for tools that can help to identify risks and ensure that facilities maintain internal and external standards. Internal audits can shine a light on vulnerabilities and help facilities determine whether existing processes effectively drive compliance. However, simply performing internal audits will not ensure continuous improvement. Taking time to identify the appropriate scope and frequency for internal audits can drive progress and compliance in the most cost-effective way.
GFSI and internal audits
The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is a set of industry-driven guidelines and standards that have designed procedures for delivering consistency and compliance in the food industry. Rather than a governmental entity, the industry sets GFSI benchmarks, and when manufacturers meet the standards in the guidance document, they can earn a certification. This certification tells their customers that they operate with a food safety plan that meets or exceeds industry standards.
Internal audits using risk-based assessment
The focus of a risk-based audit is threefold:
- Ensuring facilities are correctly safeguarding processes
- Validating internal controls are properly functioning
- Ensuring facilities are operating in compliance with manufacturer and industry standards
Additionally, there is a seven-step process for risk-based auditing:
- Understanding the process under review
- Performing a preliminary risk assessment
- Developing a three-year audit plan
- Performing a secondary risk assessment
- Executing the internal audit
- Holding meetings after the completion of the audit
- Creating and distributing key information and reports
GFSI audit requirement
The GFSI standard states that an organization’s internal audit system should “cover all activities within the scope of the Food Safety Management System.” Specific requirements vary by scheme. Safe Quality Food (SQF) standards require internal audits. However, the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety Issue 8 and FSSC 22000:2018 each have unique benchmarks. It’s therefore essential for facilities to ensure they are conducting audits precisely as required.
Developing the internal auditing team
Internal audits must encompass both development and implementation for internal audits to comply with ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and other standards and schemes. Selecting the auditing team is crucial to developing an effective auditing strategy. Facilities should retain a pool of well-trained auditors. More extensive facilities that undergo internal auditing should invest in training a larger pool of competent auditors from within multiple departments, which can help to minimize audit bias. Additionally, training people to audit closely related departments can create an advantage. The auditing process will allow those people to develop a more advanced knowledge of other departments and how different aspects of the facility work as parts of the whole.
Although drawing personnel from related departments to train as internal auditors can be beneficial, it is also important to ensure that auditors focus on auditing the system and processes and not necessarily the people performing them. Familiarity with the personnel could unintentionally introduce bias in the audit and cause auditors to overlook or minimize potential areas for improvement.
Auditor training is crucial
The intention of internal audits is to discover ways to improve processes. Even processes perceived as excellent or compliant can benefit from auditing as facilities work toward continuous improvement. Many outside agencies provide internal auditor training. However, some manufacturers also develop their own auditor training tailored to be more specific to their unique internal processes. Developing proprietary training can also be more cost-effective, especially for larger facilities that train to fill a large pool of auditors.
Internal audits—find your why
Manufacturers have multiple reasons for conducting internal audits. Achieving GFSI certification lets facilities show customers that they adhere to an industry-recognized standard. But internal audits have many more uses, such as identifying gaps or inefficient processes. They’re an excellent tool for exposing process breakdowns before an external audit can find them. Although a manufacturer is highly likely—and should—have multiple reasons for performing internal audits, identifying the primary goal can ensure the internal audit stays on track and targets the most needed issues.
Integrating software to track internal auditing
Establishing an audit management system like an integrated software platform can help manufacturers get the most out of each audit. From auditing checklists to data collection, software can help auditors retrieve checklists and forms during the audit at a moment’s notice. After audit completion, auditors and management can generate functional reports and communication for the exit meetings and planning post-audit. An internal audit can uncover critical issues, but if reports do not fully capture the issue and lead to an appropriate plan of action, it will remain until an external audit identifies it. Software platforms can also help teams generate multiple reports for different departments or levels within the organization so that the relevant information gets to the right people.
About the author
Shamonique Schrick is FSQA Solutions Architect at SafetyChain Software.