July 27, 2021
Food & beverage companies must ensure that food safety standards are met consistently. Certifying bodies are facing challenges in performing onsite audits due to social distancing and travel barriers introduced in the wake of COVID-19. Auditing is important for food processing, manufacturing, or testing facilities and enables supply chain due diligence to maintain food safety standards. It enforces the implementation of stringent programs and enables companies to stay on track with safe, quality-driven operations to maintain certification.
With in-house audits becoming a challenge during this pandemic, the concept of remote auditing has become an accepted alternative to traditional onsite audits for many food and beverage companies. The Global Food Safety Institute (GFSI) approved remote audits in the wake of coronavirus and announced that it would support the use of information and communications technologies (ICT) during audits.
What Steps does a Remote Audit Include?
Remote auditing is quite similar to onsite audits. You need to equally prepare for a remote audit as you do for an in-house audit.
- Notify the certifying body about your requirements for a remote audit.
- You should then conduct a self-assessment and provide detailed information about your company’s programs, facilities, and operational workflows to the auditors.
- Based on the information provided, the auditors determine if the company’s records and procedures could be checked and validated remotely.
- After a risk evaluation process, the auditors will approve or deny your request for a remote audit based on the feasibility to conduct a remote audit.
- Once your request for a remote audit is approved, you can prepare for it. You must keep all necessary resources, documents, and reports ready before the audit. The video of the facility is made available via CCTV cameras and video recordings of the facilities. In a remote audit, all documents and recommendations of auditors are digitally shared via a secure portal.
- Once the audit is successfully completed, you will receive the certification. The auditors may suggest an onsite audit later. So, you should prepare for the onsite audit in advance.
Is Your Company Ready for a Remote Audit?
Step-by-step planning is the key to success in a remote audit.
- Make sure to identify all requirements of the audit team, such as the method of conferencing, and be well prepared in advance.
- Gather documents, such as visitor’s policy, non-disclosure agreements, in advance that you may need to send to your auditors so that you have enough time to rectify any issues that may arise.
- Depute your key personnel to monitor the entire remote auditing process. They should be available at all times, in-person or remotely, to answer any questions the auditors may have.
- Digitize all necessary documents before time as you will have to share them with the auditors over an online portal.
- Ensure fast and secure internet connection to avoid any interruption in the remote auditing process. Do a test run to ensure the smooth functioning of all systems.
How a LIMS Helps Ease a Remote Audit?
Auditing requires proper maintenance of documents including standard operating procedures (SOPs), records of non-conformities and corrective actions taken, and material safety data sheets (MSDS). All these documents should be maintained in an electronic format before a remote audit. For companies still relying on paper-based data management processes, conducting remote audits becomes impractical as they face various challenges including loss of documents and manual errors, such as missing time stamps.
A food and beverage industry laboratory software, also known as food LIMS, can help overcome all such challenges, allowing a smooth remote audit. A Food LIMS can help in the following ways:
- Securely stores all documents digitally at a centralized location along with proper file names and tracks version history, eliminating the risk of document loss. This allows food manufacturers to easily locate and retrieve required documents, and share them with the auditors.
- Helps manage and digitally store laboratory documents, such as manuals, SOPs, instrument calibration, and maintenance reports.
- Maintains a read-only audit trail to track all laboratory activities along with a date and time stamp. A LIMS can generate a comprehensive audit report which can be requested by auditors anytime.
- Manages quality control samples and their test results. Furthermore, a food and beverage industry laboratory software generates quality control charts and helps take corrective actions if required.
- Maintains complete records of the staff including their educational qualifications. A LIMS can easily generate staff training and competency reports which can be requested by auditors.
- Automation increases efficiency in the overall auditing process, minimizes errors, and also helps achieve regulatory compliance, such as ISO/IEC 17025, with ease.
Certifying bodies may conduct remote audits even after the pandemic is over as it provides numerous benefits over the traditional onsite audits. Remote audits are cost-effective as it cuts down travel costs. Digital reports are more secure and can be stored for a longer time for validation in the future. Remote audits may gain more prevalence in the future with advanced information and communication technologies. Also, automation through IoT (Internet of things) is likely to enhance and streamline remote auditing. A food and beverage industry laboratory software can help manufacturers and testing laboratories to digitize their record-keeping process, automate their operations, and participate in remote food safety audits seamlessly. Remote auditing helps food & beverage companies to maintain safety and quality standards even in challenging circumstances.
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