If you conduct an annual GFSI audit in your facility or are preparing for such an audit, you already know the stakes. You work all year to uphold your chosen standard and anxiously prep for your yearly audit. But what is the best way to prepare for your food safety audit, and what are your goals?
The overarching goal of GFSI certification should be the production of safe food, thereby protecting your customer, the retailer, and the supplier. Also, a low audit score should serve as a call to action for continuous improvement. While the audit is meant to evaluate and verify compliance with a food safety standard, the fact is that your audit can affect your business in significant ways.
The Wrong Way to Prepare for Your Food Safety Audit
We all know the stories of the QA Manager who loses their job over a low audit score, or the retail customer who suspends millions of dollars of business when a supplier fails to achieve their minimum required grade.
Don’t be this person.
What we often see in facilities is an operation that is run one way throughout the year and another way when the yearly audit is fast approaching. This type of behavior results in a frantic attempt to get up to standard requirements and, ultimately, a low audit grade. Instead of cramming at the last minute, be proactive with your food safety audit preparation, and operate a food safety system you can be proud of year-round.
Proper Food Safety Audit Preparation
The tools for achieving a positive outcome on an audit are the same tools you use to ensure safe food production in general, but one of these tools often goes overlooked. While it may never be a universal cliché like “fight fire with fire,” it is always a good idea to prepare for an audit with an audit.
While every GFSI-certified site is required to conduct an Internal Audit each year, there can be a great benefit in scheduling a supplemental third-party audit, as well.
When you contract a supplemental third-party audit, you receive the benefit of having a professional auditor with expertise in the standard inspecting your facility and policies with fresh eyes. Because a third-party auditor conducts their audit without any conflict-of-interest, their findings can also help make the argument for capital expenditures that may be necessary to make significant food safety improvements.
Using Audits to Prepare for Your Audit
Two types of third-party audits can benefit your facility:
HACCP Verification Audit
A HACCP audit generally only takes one day with an auditor on-site. While it does not cover everything included in a BRC or SQF audit, it does focus on the HACCP program at the heart of GFSI audits. A HACCP audit can also result in a certificate verifying compliance, which may help reassure customers to see that your facility is following good practices all year long.
SQF or BRC Pre-Assessment Audits
A BRC or SQF Pre-Assessment is also known as a mock audit. These require as much time from an auditor on-site as an actual audit. The time is the same because the auditor will review the facility for compliance to the entirety of the code. A Pre-Assessment is particularly helpful because it gives you a thorough look at your entire food safety system and has no public consequences. What this means is that the non-conformities identified on your Pre-Assessment will not be reported to SQFI, BRC, or your customers. The results are only reported to you to address internally before your next certification audit.
Conducting one of these audits internally significantly decreases the potential for liability because you catch the big mistakes before they become public knowledge.
Not Quite Ready for a Complete GFSI Audit?
If you are newer to food safety, the best way to prepare for your chosen GFSI scheme is to begin with a fundamentals program.
For platforms like SQF and BRCGS, those programs are called BRC Start! and SQF Fundamentals. These programs were created to streamline the process of becoming GFSI certified. If you are receiving requests from suppliers to become GFSI certified and only have HACCP certification, participating in one of these programs could show them that you are serious about getting the certification.
To get started with a beginner program, visit their website linked above or read our article “The BRC Global Standard Start! Program”
If you are considering adding a HACCP Audit or Pre-Assessment into your annual audit preparation, contact us at 916-246-2806, and we will be more than happy to discuss your options.