What does the food safety certification auditor look for?

When it is time for your certification audit the Lead Assessor will be coming to your facility. Depending on the size of your facility, they may be working alone or with an audit team. To help you prepare for your successful audit, it is good to know what they will be looking for during their visit.

While most food processors are accustomed to various inspections or supplier audits, they may not have experience with a management systems audit. During these audits the auditors will not only audit the food safety activities, they will also be closely evaluating the processes that you have in place to manage those activities. For example, the auditor will want to audit the facility and make sure that it meets requirements, but they will also want to see your organization's system for evaluating the facility, identifying issues and taking corrective actions.

Lets take a closer look at this example. If the auditor finds several openings to the facility that are not well sealed and provide potential pest entry; this may result in a nonconformity. It also raises the question in the auditors mind, "why have these not been identified by the organization through the use of its own processes?"

As the auditor evaluates the food safety inspections, GMP inspections or internal audits (based on how the organization's systems are organized and how they monitor their facility) they will be looking at why the poorly sealed openings were not identified. The auditor must determine if this process is effective, or if it was not effective in verifying the condition of the facility. The emphasis is not on only on the faulty openings, but on why the food safety management system did not find and correct the issue.

Lets look at an audit scenario. During a certification audit, a torn screen is found. A review of the GMP audits in place shows a well organized system of GMP audits, with good identification of issues and a reliable correction action system. Based on the evaluation of the system, it is clear to the auditor that the tear in the screen had occurred after the previous days GMP audit, and would have been identified quickly through the GMP audit system. The system was working, and the tear was is not considered a nonconformance.

However, during a certification of a different facility where no issues are found with the integrity of the facility, an evaluation of the system shows no planned system for verification of the integrity of the facility (the GMP/food safety audits does not include verification of the exterior, windows, entrances and roof). The status of the facility is good at the time of the certification audit, but there is no method in place to ensure that it stays in that condition. The auditor can not rely on the system to find issues as they occur. This is a nonconformance.

The management systems audit will not only focus on the facility and production processes, but will also look at the management processes that are needed to ensure food safety. Lets take a look at an example of findings while auditing the training process. While conducting a certification audit, the auditor notices that the root cause of many of the nonconformances found during internal audits is "Training". It is a repeating theme, a nonconformance occurred because the person responsible was not trained effectively.

When it is time to audit the training process the auditor finds that the method of training was to have the operator read the procedure and sign off on it. While that may be an effective method in some cases, the evidence from the corrective actions indicated that it is not working well in this organization. The auditor asks how effectiveness of the training is evaluated and finds that once training was completed there is no more action, no measure of effectiveness. This information, especially once supported by the evidence from the corrective action system results in a nonconformance related to training, specifically measuring the effectiveness of training.

These are just a few examples to illustrate the emphasis on the food safety management system's effectiveness. The audit team will be looking for evidence that the system is effective, and will continue to be effective because of verification, validation, correction and improvement processes built into the system.

Be Prepared for your Certification Audit

The auditor is in your facility looking for evidence that your system meets the requirements of the standard. Be prepared to provide that evidence for a successful audit:

  • Be familiar with your documentation and where to find the processes required by the standard.
  • Have the documentation accessible for the auditor, either in hard copy form or access to your network.
  • Clear your schedule as best you can so there are not delays from interruptions.
  • Communicate the dates, times and purpose of the audit so that everyone is on board and ready to answer questions and provide records to the auditor as needed.
  • The Lead Auditor will provide an audit plan, but be flexible and prepared for changes. The plan may change as the auditor follows "audit trails".
  • It is in your benefit to provide sufficient information to give the auditor confidence in your system.

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