Internal Audit 101
We’ve decided to raise the spotlight on internal audits again this week and re-publish one of our old Blogs. Strangely enough, the internal audit system is still one of the most complex aspects of a food safety management system. There is just so much that has to be considered and the more complex the products and processes, the more complex the audit system is likely to be.
Most organisations do not have the luxury of having a dedicated resource to perform internal audits and very often this important task is delegated to a select few employees who perform internal audits over and above their other duties. Kudos to all our internal auditors!
Let’s start by looking at the purpose of internal audits which, just like external audits, is to add value to the organisation. Internal audits are used to identifying risks in the business as well as improvement opportunities. A half-hearted attempt at implementing an internal audit programme, will only yield half-hearted results.
We have put together a list of non-negotiable “must-haves” for your internal audit programme:
- It must cover all the relevant products and processes as well as the requirements of the standard in question.
The internal audit programme must cover all the aspects that were documented as part of the food safety and quality management system, as well as those required by the relevant standard. The audit programme must demonstrate that all the relevant clauses are covered and that all the procedures created within the organisation are incorporated into the programme.
Some standards require that these audits be carried out throughout the year on a frequency based on risk and not as a once-off audit in preparation for the external certification audit. We find that this is best practice and highly recommend that this forms the basis of any internal audit system.
- Competent, independent auditors
Auditing is an acquired skill and auditors must be trained to enable them to execute the audits in a professional manner. The training should include principles of auditing as well as effective reporting and follow-up activities. Auditors also add more value to the audit if they understand the audit criteria as well as the process, they are auditing.
To ensure a rigorous and thorough audit from an unbiased auditor, internal auditors must be independent of the processes they audit.
- Corrective actions
If you have made the effort to perform the audit, clearly documenting and communicating the results to those who can make improvements to the process is the next logical step… After all, we want to use this opportunity to address the non-conformances by assigning timescales and responsibilities for corrective actions. The focus is not only to make immediate corrections, but also to perform a root cause analysis and implement actions will prevent the non-conformance from re-occurring.
Follow-ups are the final step in the internal audit cycle and very often not enough focus is placed on this activity. The follow-up involves evaluation of the actions that were taken to address the non-conformance. Evidence of these actions must be provided before the non-conformity is closed out. Respecting due dates is also crucial and is very often an indication of leadership and management commitment when emphasis is placed on meeting deadlines.
Remember that an audit and an inspection are not the same! Audits thoroughly investigate the effectiveness of the process, whereas an inspection evaluates the immediate situation and is usually checklist driven. Both are required in food safety management systems.
Execution of the internal audit programme is crucial and is usually assessed during the certification audit. The system should make provision for an escalation process when the schedule is not executed. This can involve reporting of unexecuted audits and outstanding corrective actions to top management who need to see that audits can add value and contribute to managing risks and continual improvement.
If you have a curious, enquiring mind and an insatiable desire to learn more and more about the processes and products and system requirements, you already have what it takes to be an internal auditor. All you need to do is enrol for our next Introduction to Internal Auditing Workshop on 10 – 11 November 2021 (Paarl) or 15 – 16 November 2021 in JHB. Perhaps you’re even ready to things up a notch? Our next Advanced Internal Auditor Workshop is scheduled for 15 – 16 November 2021. [Click here to register].
From all of us here at Food Bites