Internal Auditing 101
80 days to Christmas and 86 days until the end of this year which we assume, most of us are quite keen to get over… We thought it wise to reflect and deliberate on a very important aspect of any food safety management system, fellow Food Biters – the ancient art of internal audits. With 2020 hurtling to an end, now would be the best time to review your current internal system and get ready for 2021!
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 to together a list of non-negotiable “must-haves” for your internal audit programme:
- It must cover all the relevant products and process 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 see yourself as a Sherlock Holmes or an investigator, then you will certainly make an excellent internal auditor. Internal auditors need to have curious, enquiring minds and an unsatiable desire to learn more and more about the processes and products and system requirements. Does this sound like you? Why not enroll for our next Advanced Internal Auditor workshop scheduled for 16 – 17 November 2020. [Click here to register].
It’s been fun chatting to you – same time, same place, next week!