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Performing an Internal Audit in Your Food Processing Facility

Part 2 of a 5-part series:

In order to ensure the preventive controls and cGMPs put in place by conscientious QA Managers and Sanitarians are being consistently followed, Internal Audits are necessary. During an Internal Audit, you will be able to evaluate the controls and see how and if they can be improved upon. We spoke to Hope Bowman, Waltham Pest Control entomologist, to discuss the way to best perform an Internal Audit.

Q: Hope, we appreciate you taking the time to speak to us about this. Can you first tell us why a food warehouse, distributor, or manufacturer – basically any facility in the food processing industry – would put themselves through an Internal Audit?
A: A warehouse may conduct an Internal Audit in order to be prepared for audits that have greater consequences. Passing audits such as AIB, SQF, or Primus, for example, may determine whether customers will continue to do business with the company or if new customers can be gained, so the benefits for passing an audit are great. Going through an Internal Audit will help the facility be prepared for one of these other audits by assuring documentation, sanitation, preventive maintenance, and procedures are adequate. It’s better to resolve any issues before the audit than on the day or week of the audit. Internal Audits can also be performed for specific programs individually, such as for sanitation documentation or for pest control, and they can be performed by either the facility or by a vendor.

Q: All excellent points. The next question we have is how do you even perform one?
A: The first step to performing an Internal Audit is to determine what criteria is being measured. If a facility is, for example, being prepared for an FDA audit, then criteria for an FDA audit would be used. Next, the components of the audit are broken down into sections. For example, if you are looking to do an Internal Audit on sanitation, then that section may be broken down into the components that the FDA requires based on your specific facility. How well the plan was followed would be also assessed. It may help to develop an easy-to-use spreadsheet or check-off sheet so that each department member is aware of what is being assessed.

Q: Thanks for all the details – that should really help someone perform their first Internal Audit. Last thing – what is there to be done with the results of the Internal Audit?
A: The results of the Internal Audit should be used for continuous improvement. If sanitation is not satisfactory in a certain area, the frequency of cleaning may need to be increased. If a door continues to be propped open, maybe this door can be alarmed or monitored to prevent it from being open for too long. If there are procedures or policies that are not being followed, what are the roadblocks to making sure these procedures are followed? Identify them and then add a fix. For example, if PPE needs to be worn in a certain area, make sure an adequate supply is at all entrances and the replenishment of this supply is also on a schedule for addressing.

Internal Audits are an excellent way to make sure your Food Safety Plan is in top-notch working order. And if it’s not, it’s a great time to find out and fix it before an outside auditor finds it. Failing an Internal Audit at least gives you the chance to fix anything subpar. Failing an external audit can come with serious consequences. We thank Hope for talking about this with us and for providing such important information for this industry.

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