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What is a food safety audit and how is food auditing done?
Food safety audits are organized activities that aim to evaluate the level of food safety management system of a food ...
- Food safety audits are organized activities that aim to evaluate the level of food safety management system of a food business in the pursuit of protecting public health.
- Food safety audits focus on key areas of your operations such as your food safety management system, food storage, food preparation, sanitation, facility design, and employee hygiene.
- Proper planning, extensive knowledge about food safety, and comprehensive digital management tools are the primary keys to acing food safety audits.
All food businesses are committed to maintaining food safety throughout their operations. It almost goes without saying that any type of food business must follow food safety laws and regulations to protect public health. In the pursuit of highlighting the importance of food safety and its maintenance and as part of the role of government agencies in protecting public health, food safety audits are conducted.
Food safety audits are an essential part of the food industry but are sometimes considered a dreaded experience by food business owners. A report from the food safety effort will reflect the status of a food business and show its approach to food safety. Food safety auditors are directed to inspect all the essential parts of your operations. Preparing for these audits by knowing what happens in one and what purpose do they serve can significantly help your food business ace one and improve your services.
Learn all the basic yet essential information when it comes to a food safety audit and ace your next one without help.
WHAT WE'LL COVER:
What is a food safety audit?
A food safety audit is described as a highly structured activity that aims to document evaluations on a food business's food safety system to determine if all practices are according to appropriate food laws and regulations. A food safety audit creates a transparent report about the situation of and level of food safety systems in a food business and highlights its strengths and weaknesses. These reports can then be used to improve your food safety management strategy.
As consumers become more and more aware of food safety laws and regulations and the risk of food contamination, food safety audits are becoming more essential than ever. Food safety agencies have put heavy emphasis on hazard analysis and their prevention to protect public health. All the more reason for you to focus on strengthening your food control systems!
As mentioned, a food safety audit is mainly conducted to evaluate and verify the level of food safety management systems of food businesses for their continuous improvement. In addition to this objective, food safety audits can be observed to satisfy other reasons which include the following:
- Certification audit for certain food safety standards
- Assessment of premises condition and food business performance
- Ensure legal compliance
- Inspection in response to a complaint
- Regulatory requirement
- Supplier request
- Promote business objectives
These food safety audits can be conducted by internal or external auditors and regulatory agencies depending on their objectives. In addition, laws, regulations, requirements, and food control system orientations would highly depend on your location. In some states of the United States, food laws are more stringent than others. As such, proper research about these specific food laws is required.
Types of food safety audit
Food safety audits can be categorized as either internal or external audits. If an audit is conducted by experienced food safety professionals or managers employed within the food business, then it is considered an internal audit. On the other hand, external audits are performed by second- or third-party organizations. They can then be further subdivided into three categories based on the relationship of the auditor and the food business being audited.
To further understand these classifications, here is a list of the classification of the different types of audits for food safety:
- First-party audit. This type of audit is conducted by employees of your own food business to evaluate your food safety systems and identify points for improvement. First-party audits can be conducted routinely to ensure food safety compliance and readiness for any external audit.
- Second-party audit. Also called a proprietary audit, this type of audit is conducted by your food business, the primary organization, to other businesses directly related to you such as in the case of supplier verification. They are conducted to evaluate the suitability of a new or existing supplier through the effectiveness of their food safety management systems.
- Third-party audit. Conducted by independent auditors and food safety auditing firms to perform a complete assessment of your food safety management system and operation status. This type of audit is commonly conducted to acquire a certification or satisfy new food safety requirements.
Regardless of the type of food safety audit, all of them are directed towards the food safety management system of a food business. As such, this is the main area that you have to focus on. Make sure that your food safety management system is comprehensive enough to address all potential risks and hazards and continuously monitor their critical control. Establish a system that does not need much micromanagement and can be easily understood by everyone in your team. You can get all of these features with our digital food safety management system at FoodDocs!
Food safety audit steps
Whether a food safety audit is conducted by your in-house committee or a third-party organization, a food safety audit follows a specific structure and a set of key areas to evaluate. As a part of your preparation for a food safety audit, you need to learn what happens when an audit is conducted. Below are some steps that describe how a food safety audit is planned and executed. You can also use this structure for internal audits.
- Planning. In this step, an auditor or an audit team must identify the clear objective of the food safety audit process. This step narrows down the key areas that are needed to be evaluated in the auditing process. A predetermined scope will be used to guide the whole food safety audit. The planning stage will help audit teams to focus on their specific observations and therefore offer more critical suggestions and assessments. It is also the stage when the auditor will require your food business to submit a copy of your food safety management plan to review before the actual audit. Based on the evaluation of your documented food safety management system, an auditor may decide to push through with an onsite verification or not.
- Execution. If an auditor sees fit that an onsite inspection is needed, then one will follow soon after the evaluation of your food safety documents. An onsite verification would involve the review of your process operations, sanitation conditions, food safety practices, food safety management system, and documentation.
- Corrective and preventative actions. In this stage of an audit process, the auditor evaluates your preparedness to address breaches in standards through properly established preventive and corrective actions.
- Verification. The process would assess whether the preventive and corrective actions are appropriate as well as effective. Verification procedures are commonly conducted by reviewing documents where any corrective action has been recorded and the results after applying them.
- Audit evaluation. Along the process of the actual audit, auditors need to evaluate their progress. If you think about it, this stage makes total sense. Evaluating the audit process ensures that it is still on track and that the objectives are being met. This process is even more useful for internal food safety audits as it can improve their evaluation process to the point of being very critical.
Food safety audits are mostly composed of standard key areas and involve routine inspections. Your team can easily identify and address any concern areas if you regularly conduct inspections. To help you with routine evaluations, use a health inspection checklist that covers the majority of the food safety areas to improve your focus on achieving a great score.
How to prepare for a food safety audit?
We will admit it, food safety audits can be very nerve-wracking. Because some food safety auditors, especially those from your local authority, have the discretion to make unannounced inspections, you must always be prepared. While we mention that this is a way of becoming prepared, being compliant with food safety regulations and food industry standards is a necessity to keep operating. Preparing for a food safety audit is a win-win activity for your food business.
So, how exactly do you prepare for a food safety audit? Food safety audits are not blind examinations. What we mean by this, is that all areas that a food safety audit passes through are well established in food safety guidelines. This fact gives you the advantage to review them and make sure that you cover all possible areas.
Here are a few steps that you can follow to help you achieve a successful audit:
- Review your basic food safety knowledge. A food safety audit is not only about the state of your food safety management system standards. Having a deep understanding of the subject matter such as basic food safety topics displays your expertise and confidence in the practices that you employ to make your food products. You must be able to answer and justify any question posed by the auditor whether they may be basic or technical food safety questions. Not knowing how to answer simple questions such as "What are the food safety hazards of your day-to-day business operations?" shows your lack of preparedness and can be the basis to question the integrity of your system.
- Ensure compliance with all prerequisite programs. Almost all food safety management systems stem from prerequisite programs. They are the foundation of the majority of food safety practices. Once you ensure that you have all prerequisite programs in the bag, then you have quite a big chance of impressing your food safety auditor. These prerequisite programs include current Good Manufacturing Practices, Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures, and an allergen control system.
- Prepare your HACCP/ HARPC plan. As part of the mandate of most food safety agencies, every food business is required to have a risk-based food safety management system that is proactive. Your HACCP food safety plan must be comprehensive, well-documented, and follow all stated principles.
- Review your food safety management plan regularly. Setup periodic or quarterly meetings where you and your team would assess how efficient and effective your food safety management system is. Through such meetings, you will be able to address key areas that are creating problems in your operations. The key to having a good evaluation system is for all of your operations to be monitored and documented in an organized manner.
- Review documentation files. One of the first steps to a food safety audit is to present your documentation to the food safety auditor before an on-site inspection. Your monitoring forms, checklists, verification documents, and other progress report are proof that your food control system is working. Make sure that all documents are complete and accurate.
- Use checklists to finish tasks. Preparing for a food safety audit involves several tasks that are concerned in almost all the various fields of your food operations. To stay on track and to be sure to remember all food safety tasks, use checklists. These tools allow you to identify urgent matters and focus on their completion.
- Perform an internal audit. Unannounced audits can make anyone nervous because there is a lot at stake. Despite this, you can prevent human error from happening by adopting a strict auditing routine within your food business. Regular internal audits will allow your employees to imprint in their everyday routine the necessary proper food safety practices and will eventually do them even without supervision. This task will also serve as a practical experience and food safety training and promote continual improvement in your employees' performance.
- Orient and train your team. During one of your regular in-house meetings or when new employees come on board of your food business, make sure to put in your agenda to orient everyone about food safety audits and what would be the course of action to satisfy their legal requirements. The first step to becoming well-prepared is to know what is about to happen. Properly orienting your team creates a strong food safety culture and improves their sense of ownership and accountability for tasks that are assigned to them.
When your team is prepared, there is no need to worry about any surprise inspections. Being confident that your team is well-equipped with the proper knowledge and food safety skills ensures a great evaluation report of your food safety audit. You can easily achieve all of these preparation steps when you have a comprehensive food safety management system that allows you to monitor everything remotely and properly document your operations. Get to know more about what we offer in FoodDocs as you read into this article.
Key areas of a food safety audit
In general, a food safety audit will observe and evaluate your operations and then identify areas for improvement. These key areas have been well-established over the years and are recognized to be very important in keeping food operations safe. Food laws and regulations are set for these key areas and a food safety audit will most likely revolve around them.
Any food safety audit will cover the following food safety areas:
- Food safety management system. This area involves how you conduct and monitor your operations and ensure that everything follows food safety standards. It also includes proper documentation of your resolutions in case of dispute, breach of standards, and other non-conformities in your food safety plans.
- Food storage. Storage of raw and finished goods has varying standards that equally need to be monitored. Proper storage conditions ensure that you are using safe raw materials and that the integrity of the shelf-life of your finished products is maintained. Potential problems during a food safety audit may come from broken or uncalibrated thermostats, food lying on the freezer floor, damaged packaging, and cross-contamination of raw and finished products.
- Food preparation. This key area of food safety audits is quite broad. It includes food handling practices such as proper segregation of raw materials during preparation, proper cooking to the correct internal temperatures, correct thawing of frozen foods, and even the use of gloves or handwashing during preparation. Depending on the nature and extensiveness of your operations, this section may become very long and have many subsections.
- Sanitation and cleaning. Foodborne illnesses are usually caused by the lack of proper cleaning and sanitation practices. As such, this area is considered a key section of a food safety audit. It would include having properly installed handwashing facilities, proper sanitation equipment, and a supply of hot water for cleaning.
- Facility design. Often neglected, the design of your facility contributes to the safety of your operations. Auditors often check the presence of drainages, the presence of chipped paint, and even the layout of your operations area.
- Waste management. Including a secured and working waste management system ensures food safety auditors and customers alike that your food business is operating cleanly and is contributing to the protection of the environment.
- Employee hygiene. One of the major sections of a food safety audit is how your employees conduct themselves during your operations to minimize the risk of food contamination. Employee hygiene pertains to the cleanliness of your employees, their proper attire, and hygiene practices such as hand-washing.
During an audit, your food safety auditor will make remarks about these key areas. Should any points need improvement, you are required to address them and comply with a reinspection. These points for improvement may either be urgent that needs immediate action or points which can be done without haste. During your actual audit, take important notes that the auditor emphasizes as you can use these for further improving your operations and maintaining a competitive position in the whole supply chain.
Third-party food safety auditing companies
The entire process of third-party audits is conducted by independent firms that specialize in food safety regulations about evaluating food business operations. This type of audit is usually conducted for certification purposes or in preparation for a mandated food safety audit by government agencies. They help identify the key areas of your operations that need improvement and the strengths of your team.
Audit reports can serve as your golden ticket to many different types of certifications. Several audit processes are recognized by international organizations such as the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). This makes any report by an accredited food processor recognizable in different locations.
Here is a list of some of the third-party food safety audit companies that are known in the food manufacturing industry:
- Comprehensive Food Safety (CFS)
- Food Safety System Certification 22000
- IFS world
- TUV SUD America Inc.
- Safe Food Alliance
Contrary to food audits mandated by government regulatory agencies, a third-party certification body does not have the jurisdiction to order temporary closure of your food business if ever it unravels any severe violations. At most, failing a third-party audit will merit you an unsatisfactory mark and you will not be awarded the target certificate.
Food safety auditor jobs
A food safety audit will not be complete without a food safety and quality auditor. These individuals, otherwise known as food safety inspectors, are experienced food safety professionals who inspect and evaluate food businesses based on their compliance with any food safety law. Food safety auditors carry out food safety programs and regulations to ensure that food businesses offer safer food to consumers and protect public health from foodborne illnesses.
Food safety auditors have a deep and wide range of understanding of basic and advanced food safety principles. They are also required to undergo certification processes to obtain proof of their qualification. Some auditors have already spent several years in the food industry and are very familiar with common mistakes. This makes them very hard to please at times.
A food safety auditor is required to achieve the following objectives when conducting an audit:
- Ensure compliance of food business with current food safety laws and regulations
- Ensure efficiency and effectiveness of food safety management systems
- Review documents of food businesses related to the monitoring of food safety
- Conduct a thorough and objective onsite inspection
- Reiterate food safety laws to food business owners
- Compile a comprehensive report regarding the compliance of a food business to food safety, while highlighting areas for improvement and strong areas of operation.
Food safety auditors are trained to become impartial with all their decisions. You would never have to worry if one is playing favorites. They are also mandated to exercise extreme professionalism when it comes to disclosing sensitive information about your food business and the results of your food safety audit. For a food business owner, this only means that you have to bring your A-game when the food safety auditor steps at your front door.
How much do food auditors make?
Any individual affiliated in the food industry can try out for a food safety auditor certification. The program aims to test your knowledge and skills when it comes to food safety practices, laws, and regulations. If you are curious regarding what benefits do food auditors gain apart from getting to maintain food safety throughout the industry, let's have a look at how much do they make annually.
The salary of a food safety auditor is based on their level of competencies and job experience. Their average pay in the United States ranges from $16,500.00 to $85,600 per year. Some very seasoned food safety auditors can reach up to $437,000 per year. With that much salary, you can be assured that your food business's food safety management system is in good hands.
Based on reports, a food safety auditor position from the UK gets paid about an average of £27,870 a year at a minimum and £78,000 per year at best. The average entry-level food safety auditor position can gain as much as £26,000 per year, whereas an experienced auditor can get £55,000 per year. Similar to the scheme of other countries, food safety auditors in the UK are expected to earn £22,000 to £35,000 per year for the first one to three years of job experience, whereas newcomers are expected to receive less.
Food safety auditing tools
Complying with food safety regulations means tons and tons of documents. Reports and documentation of your food production operations must be properly archived in an organized and clean manner. These documents must be complete and always be accessible for review and audit.
Food safety auditing tools can be applications, programs, or managing routines that can help you achieve a working food safety management system. Some auditing tools which can be very helpful in conducting food safety audits include checklists, protocols, manuals, pre-audit questionnaires, and copies of any applicable food safety law.
Nowadays, all of these auditing tools can be found in software that can help you store, manage, and verify all documents for your food safety management system. Some tools can even help you summarize your report in an instant and present it to third-party auditing bodies for evaluation for a faster audit experience.
Food safety auditing with FoodDocs
Food safety audits are essential parts of the whole food supply chain. They promote focus on improving your food safety practices and protecting public health from foodborne illnesses and related injuries. With that much responsibility in the hands of a food safety auditor, you would not be shocked how nervous other food business owners can be at the sight or sound of a food safety audit. Despite this, being prepared is the best way to face food safety audits.
The key to a successful food safety audit is to do your food safety operations, monitoring, and documentation correctly every day. To help you achieve this, our team of food safety experts has come up with software designed for food businesses. At FoodDocs, our Food Safety Management System features programs to help you ace a food safety audit any time of the day. Our system creates an FSMS fully tailored to the nature of your food business. Depending on your answer to the basic questions we have provided, our system automatically generates an FSMS for you.
In terms of auditing features, our system can provide you with the following benefits:
- Our system features automatically generated monitoring forms and checklists that are compatible with the nature of your food business. These digital monitoring forms and checklists are selected by our system based on your answers to our basic questions. Use our FSMS system to track all your food safety operations.
- Automatically create a real-time assessment and food safety report that reflects your everyday operations, the efficiency of your team, and any areas that require extra attention. This report is accessible through a real-time dashboard which you can easily download and share with an auditor. Impress your auditor with a well-document progress report before your onsite audit.
- Our real-time dashboard also allows you to gain access to a quick overview of consumer complaints, food safety incidents, and product recalls. You can review through the digital report details about the complaint and how your team dealt with it. You can even attach proof such as images or documents.
- Get all tasks done in time using our automatic notification system. Our FSMS features a notification system that alerts you whenever there are food safety tasks due. This can also be used to alert your team of any food safety audit that is due or is near.
- Get access to food safety checklists that you can use in maintaining food safety and reminding your employees of the important tasks that need to be done every day.
- Perform internal audits with digital audit templates that are customizable to fit your operations. Create standard audit checklists that can be used internally to maintain food safety and in preparation for a third-party or government-mandated food safety audit. These audits can be automatically set to remind your team to perform them monthly, annually, or quarterly.
- Our system provides you with cloud storage where you can store all your preexisting and newly generated food safety records and documents in a single place. This cloud storage allows you to easily access all your information with a few clicks without the hassle of flipping through all of your files and help you save up some physical space. Declutter all white paper documents and switch to our digital solutions.
All of these benefits can be accessible to your team at the palm of your hands. Our system is compatible with any mobile device such as cellular phones and tablets. Access all of your well-organized information for a food safety audit review and become ready for an onsite inspection by regularly conducting your internal verification programs with our help using your mobile phone. Every detail of a good food safety audit tool is present in our Food Safety Management System.
With an average of 15 minutes, you can easily switch all of your food safety management system tasks into our digital platform and start becoming more efficient. Let us help you maintain your compliance with food safety laws and regulations so you can focus your attention on other important tasks. Easily tailor your food safety audit checklist by customizing your template to a standard food safety audit checklist. Maintain the highest standards of food safety audit throughout the year with our help.
Start your digital Food Safety Management System journey with our free, 14-day free trial. Hurry and sign-up before your next food safety audit!