In part three of this four-part series with SafetyChain Software, Food Safety News outlines critical steps companies should take to prepare for a remote audit.
As new technologies and work methods make their way into the food industry, companies have the option to step away from traditional in-person auditing processes and switch to a remote audit.
According to Shamonique Schrick, FSQA Solutions Architect for SafetyChain Software, companies need to treat remote audits just as seriously as they would an in-person audit, investing the same amount of time and preparation into the process. “Remote auditing,” she said, “offers companies long- and short-term solutions to ensure food safety and quality standards are met without exposing the facility to the potential risk that might come with a visit by an outside auditor.”
“Aside from documents shared digitally and audits conducted over the phone or video platforms, the process is essentially the same,” said Brian Neal, Technical Manager for Eurofins Food Assurance. “A remote audit is not a compromise,” he emphasized. “From the auditor’s perspective, they are still putting their stamp of approval on something, so it must go through the right process.”
Below, Schrick and Neal outline five critical steps companies should take when preparing for a remote audit:
- Identify key personnel
The same people that supported onsite audits need to take the lead and remain available for a remote audit.
“It doesn’t matter if they are still going into the office or if they are working remotely – these people need to be available and involved in the remote auditing process just as they would an onsite visit,” said Schrick. “This may mean bringing them in via a video conference or having them available by phone, but they need to know if they are expected to join in on the audit and how they should participate.”
- Gather documentation needed from the auditor
The same documentation required by auditors for an onsite visit should also be completed and sent to them before conducting a remote audit. It should include any non-disclosure agreements and even the visitor’s policy.
“Make sure you’re still giving auditors everything they need in advance so that they know you’re still following your usual procedures – we want to keep it as normal as possible,” explained Schrick.
- Check internet connections
Anyone working from home or communicating regularly with remote workers knows just how finicky and unreliable home Wi-Fi can be at times. Before conducting an audit, Schrick said employees taking part should work with the company’s IT department to ensure their internet connections can support the audit for the entire agreed upon time.
“Give yourself enough time to troubleshoot any issues that you find before the scheduled audit,” she said, “and communicate with the auditors about a contingency plan if something fails so the audit can still go as smoothly as possible.”
- Work with the audit team to identify needs
Two things are critical. The first being the method for conferencing. Is it going to be over the phone or video? If video, what platform are you planning to use? The second is to work with the audit team to understand how the process is going to work.
“Auditors need to understand what is needed so they can work with the company to get everything set up before the audit, so when that time comes, everything runs as smoothly as possible,” said Neal. “Communicate with your audit team and everyone else involved so they all know how the process is going to work and to sort out any issues beforehand.”
- Gather documents ahead of time
One of the most significant differences between a remote and onsite audit is that files are shared to a digital platform rather than making physical copies available at the facility. For companies that are already working with digital records, upload files to a shared portal that only their team and the designated auditor can access. For companies working with paper records, documents must be scanned or photographed and uploaded to the digital platform.
“The more digital documentation you can organize ahead, the faster and easier the audit will be,” explained Neal. “Know what documents you need and start working as soon as you can to digitize them. Companies also need to share any changes to their programs and monitoring since their last audit. Getting it all compiled is a big advantage in making things work a little faster for everyone.”
“Having that information readily available to the auditor is critical to making sure the audit goes seamlessly,” said Neal. “Prepping as much as possible is going to be your best friend.”
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