In 2003 I attended my first ever quality audit. I was a Food Technologist at a quiche and pie company who required BRC food safety certification to do business with a large proportion of their supermarket customers. Up until that moment little did I know that mastering the art of audits and inspections would become a make-or-break skill for a quality manager. Buckle up as we unravel the secrets to sailing through these rigorous assessments with finesse and precision.
Whether it’s local council inspections, customer audits, or third-party inspections, if you’re involved in the manufacturing of food or beverages, the likelihood is high that you’ll encounter audits or inspections along the way.
While compliance plays a significant role in audit outcomes, there are actionable steps that can turbocharge your business’s ability to not only ace an audit but also leave an indelible impression along the way. Below I share my essential tips to help you elevate your performance and set the stage for an exceptional audit experience:
Before the audit:
- Contact your auditor: Setting your auditor up for a successful audit not only creates a professional impression but also helps avoid unintentionally rubbing them up the wrong way. I like to start off on the right foot by sending my auditors an introduction email with key details about visiting the site including:
- Any PPE and Personal Hygiene requirements
- Parking information
- Site entry and sign-in information
- Requesting any dietary requirements
- Offer to provide information prior
- Prepare the team: No quality manager is an island. To get the best possible outcome the sooner you communicate to the rest of the team that there is an impending audit or inspection the better. This gives everyone a sense of being involved and proficient time to ready themselves. Here are my top to-do’s for the team in the lead-up to audit day:
- Brief everyone on the date, scope and reason for the audit a minimum 2 weeks in advance.
- Ask your maintenance team to ensure all contractors are inducted and where possible are not on site during the audit (contractors are a potential audit liability).
- Refresh the team on your personal hygiene rules and check that all uniforms are in good condition minimum 2 weeks in advance. Make sure supervisors are constantly on the look out for breaches of personal hygiene.
- Refresh key procedures relating to Critical Control Points and other critical processes with the staff that carry them out.
- Polish and Prosper: When it comes to being audited first impressions are very important. You will want to create an impression of organisation and cleanliness. If there’s litter blowing around the entrance and stacks of boxes in your reception what does that say about the pride you have in your business? Remember the auditor knows that you are expecting them! When I audit a business, I always ask to use the bathroom shortly after arriving. I do this because the state of the toilets tells me a lot about a businesses attitude to hygiene and sanitation. Here’s some tips to create the right first impression:
- Walk in the shoes of the auditor i.e., follow the route they will take from the car park to reception and check all staff facilities. How is it? Are you creating a good first impression.
- Check hand soaps, sanitisers and paper towels are fully refilled.
- Call your pest controller in 7-10 days in prior. Remember some treatments such as cockroach treatments can take several days to kick in.
- Check all of your bait stations and that other pest control measures are where they should be and in good condition.
- Check all lights are functional, roller doors are operational, hoses and tool are in good condition and cleaning equipment is clean and in good shape.
- Walk around frequently in the fortnight prior, ideally with department leaders and ensure you photograph and share any items that need attention.
- Paperwork Perfection: Streamline, Structure, Succeed: Nothing gives a better sense of control than well organised, easily accessible paperwork. Having all your documents ready and waiting for the auditor is a winners move.If you’re being audited against a standard, consider organising and even numbering your documents to coincide with the standards numbering. This not only makes it a lot easier for the auditor to find the documents they need it also shows that you have a systematic approach to complying with the standard.Finally ensure that there isn’t a trace of Whiteout or other correction fluid products anywhere near your documents. The standard way of correcting food safety and other regulatory documents is a single line strike though with the correction next to it and initials of the person who made the correction e.g., 10.23 10.32 CC
During the audit:
- Opening Meeting Attendance: The most consistent positive audit feedback I’ve had over my career is how “Engaged” the team are. Most audits and inspections kick off with a short opening meeting and I ensure that all essential stakeholders, including the CEO plus key department and team leaders are present. This demonstrates our organisation’s unwavering commitment to quality, from top leadership to the frontline. By establishing an atmosphere of dedication and engagement, auditors recognise the seriousness with which we approach the audit process.
- Friendly Faces: Feeding on from point 2, when you lead the auditor around the site it creates a fantastic impression when the team are friendly, smiling and welcoming. It creates a sense of openness, pride, and confidence in the job they do. I often build on this vibe by introducing the auditor to the most experienced confident front-line operator and ask them if there’s anything they want to be shown.
- The audit space: Finally make sure you reserve a nice clean, well-organised area within your business to be the auditing space. Always be mindful of where your space is located and how thin the walls are. Next door to lunchrooms & break areas should be avoided where possible. Here’s some things to have set-up in the room to create a welcoming environment:
- Drinks and snacks
- Clean mug for hot drinks
- PowerPoint for auditors laptop
Mastering the art of audits and inspections is a game-changer for businesses in the food and beverage industry. By implementing the strategies outlined in this guide, you can position your business for success. From proactive communication and team engagement to creating an impeccable first impression, every step contributes to positive audit experience. Remember, audits are not just about compliance; they are an opportunity to showcase your commitment to quality and excellence. So, embrace the challenge, apply these valuable insights, and watch as your business shines brightly in the eyes of auditors. Prepare, perform, and leave a lasting impression that sets you apart from the competition. It’s time to nail your audits and inspections!
Thank you for taking the time to read our blog. We hope you found it informative and valuable. We would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on the strategies we’ve shared, or any additional tips you have for fostering engagement and driving quality performance. Please feel free to leave a comment or reach out to us directly. Your feedback is important to us and helps us to continue creating content that is relevant and helpful to our audience.