Unannounced Audits – The Way Forward
BRC unannounced audits are available to sites achieving top grades with two options, a single unannounced two day audit or a one day unannounced GMP audit plus a one day scheduled system audit.
The FSSC 22000 certification scheme requires announced, but unscheduled audits of certified organizations where the certification body participates in a risk based programme of office audits and announced, but unscheduled, audits of certified organizations.
The certification schemes point out that the benefit of unannounced audits is a greater confidence in the systems in place which ‘may’ influence risk rating and audit frequency.
I qualified as a Lead Assessor over 20 years ago and at that time due to our large customer base we had 1 or 2 site audits every week, which is ridiculous and why I believe acceptance of food safety certification schemes frees up huge amounts of resource in the industry which can then be used to focus on food safety and improving quality.
Unannounced audits are not new to anyone who supplies British retailers; some favor this protocol and feel that an unannounced audit gives a better picture of the systems and standards in place for normal day to day operations. To some extent this is true, I have seen from both sides attempted ‘Stage Management’ of scheduled audits where what happens on the day is not a reflection of normal operations. Usually ‘stage managed’ audits aren’t difficult to spot, when you’ve got 6 to 10 managers guiding you round you ‘smell a rat’, I’ve even had one supplier that arranged the opening meeting at a site that was 30 miles from the actual production site so that it reduced the audit time.
So there is something to be said for the format and protocol of the main food safety schemes as I believe they are raising auditing standards with clearly defined guidance on auditing, auditor competency and their food safety requirements which can only help in assuring customers and retailers alike of the value of certification to a recognized food safety certification scheme.
In the past I have had a variety of auditor types and styles that would come to visit:
Wants to sit in the office all day with tea and biscuits reading through every single document you have
Free lunch auditor
Wants to go out for a 2 hour slap up lunch and the day is focused on achieving this
Bin bag auditor
Wants to go round your site picking up bits and pieces which are then an indication of ‘poor sanitation’ or ‘foreign bodies’ even though they are nowhere near product areas
Pest control auditor
Is completely fixated with pest control and spends the day on the pest control procedures and looking for holes in the building
Swab you auditor
Turns up with a box of swabs and spends the day looking for something particularly nasty that they can ‘cultivate’ later
Electric cabinet auditor
Spends the day going round and opening every single electrical cabinet on site
Nothing is too insignificant, writes down everything, produces a report with 200 points none of which are major or minor non-conformances
Nothing is good enough and you look a bit overweight, you should try eating less
Gives you advice and opinion on everything even though you don’t want to hear it
Having said all that there have also been some excellent auditors over the years and I certainly benefitted from my audit experiences. Now I can only see standards improving generally given that more and more organizations in the food chain are requiring certification to recognized food safety certification schemes.
Next time I’ll go into how to prepare for an unannounced audit but on a final note for this blog, here are my top ten memorable audit moments:
1. ‘Diplomatic Crisis’
Government of supplier complained to the government of a company I represented because I did not approve one of their production sites following a supplier approval audit
2. ‘Faux Pas’
My pest controller tells the auditor (who unbeknown to him is an animal rights freak) that if we start seeing too many pigeons he brings his air rifle in at the weekend and shoots them
3. ‘Bat out of Hell’
A bat which was removed from site and freed returns to put in an appearance flying around in the packaging store during an audit
Chart records absent from a process plant – a legal requirement
5. ‘Don’t forget we’ve got an audit today so..’
Auditor spotted note left to operator – rinse with potable water today as we have an IP audit
An operator stood on a milk polybottle to demonstrate how well sealed it was and the lid popped off drenching the auditor
7. ‘How low can you go?’
Supplier was filling low weights (illegal product) and their weight control system was telling them everything was fine
8. ‘Major Cock Up’
Suppliers packaging found to leak when checked on audit – on investigation packaging design was found to be wrong but several sites were in full production
9. ‘Oops – How did that happen?’
Supplier lost test piece whilst demonstrating metal detection/Metal detector failed to reject test product
10. ‘What food safety policy?!’
A Site Director was asked if he could give an overview of the food safety policy which he had authorized and signed. Dumfounded he couldn’t quote any part of the policy
If you've been involved with an unannounced audit or have a curious audit experience to share...drop us a comment below.
Also please cast your vote in our member poll...Have you experienced an Unannounced Audit?
Oh Tony , if only it were true and the unannounced scheme meant something!
I've subscribed (against my better judgement) to the BRC Unannounced scheme, primarily because I've been pressurised by a retailer , who also conducts an unannounced audit AND an unannounced ethical audit (from the most unethical auditor I've ever come across - only wanted to speak to the foreign nationals on site!!). this is in addition to the unannounced Tesco PIU, unannounced TSO & EHO visits, unannounced from Morrison and Lidl. This is without the other surveillance visits I have from customers. I barely get time to take time off! I'm employed as the technical Manager, and it's not right or fair to expect my compatriots to conduct an audit on my behalf because we get an unannounced when I'm off on holidays!
If the standards were (vaguely) the same I would help.
As an example , BRC and Morrison, retain records for 2 years. Asda retain for 6! So we retain everything for 6 (even though Asda is less than 1% of our business)
Last year I had 38 audits, not counting the BRC. and I now think the whole thing has become farcical. One week I had 3 audits on 3 consecutive days.
I agree with what you say about auditors. I think I've probably had most types too. We had 1 BRC auditor who asked me after a long lunch, what cream cakes we'd be having with our afternoon tea. I've also had auditors who have turned up at 8am, and are still there at 7pm at night. Believe it or not, I have a family, so I want to be gone by 5.30pm in order to feed them and to spend some quality time with them.
I've also had the insulting auditor. "are you qualified in HACCP?" ...um yes, are you??? How dare they, my boss employed me on my ability, and its up to him to decide if I have the right credentials for the job! I actually now have my certificates framed on the wall, saves my having to explain, that yes I am qualified, in a lot of things , thank you!
Gee Tony, you've made me rant first thing on a Monday Morning, although I have kept it short!!