Audits, whether internal, external, government or part of a Global Food Safety Initiative (GSFI), all induce a level of anxiety prior to and during the audit, at an exit meeting and finally when the report arrives. The anxiety is well-founded as these can be facility-changing events. If the plant is not acceptable, a company could lose business, receive regulatory warning letters or even become perceived as unfixable to a parent company, which could mean closure over time.
On the positive side, a good audit can be beneficial, increasing volume, gaining a good reputation within the company or with regulatory agencies, and establishing a path forward for capital investment and growth. From a career perspective, it can either be positive as a promotional opportunity, or if it does not go well, a negative for the plant staff and the manager. At times, a failed audit can even be what’s commonly known as a CLM, or “career-limiting move.”
Audits can be equally risky for the auditor, as well. What if something important is missed during the audit and the visit is followed by a recall due to an issue that should have been identified? What if the audit is followed by a regulatory visit, which finds unsanitary or otherwise violative conditions? We have seen a few of these in the past several years. This could be a CLM for an auditor.
Such potential ramifications reveal why audits are so important. The challenge is how to manage audits to optimize the score and the food safety systems while ensuring the systems and fundamental food safety practices are sustained following the audit. Unfortunately, in some situations, audit preparation can take months to ensure proper documentation and execution yielding a good audit score. However, if there is not continued diligence on the paperwork and the execution, the only benefit of the audit preparation is a good score based on a few days of observations. This postpones the CLM concern, but without continued diligence and commitment to remaining audit-ready, failure is imminent.