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SQF Audit Time -- ASK QUESTIONS, Don't Just Sit There!

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#1 SQFconsultant



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    Never give up, never give in

Posted 25 October 2019 - 02:57 PM



As an SQF Consultant I've sat in on several first time (and second, third, etc etc) certification audits.


Not as an active participant, but as an observer.


Some of the audits I've sat in on were ones that we had no prior engagement, but most we either had developed their entire SQF system for them/working in conjuncton with them or had contributed heavy consulting time to the company to develop or recover (or what we call getting Humpty Dumpty back on the wall again consulting.)


Now to the meat of things...


As Consultants we can not jump in during an audit to run block for the client - we can observe and discuss things with our clients at breaks, lunch, etc.


The idea is to prepare clients for audits - well before the audit occurs.


To have them become quite knowledgable about the code, standards, everything and to bring sets of the code to the audit for everyone as well.


You want to be prepared and not look at the Consultant for help, becuase if you do there is a possibility you will be gig'd for lack of knowledge by the Auditor.


This posting however is about lack of knowledge by Auditors and how you as the auditee should behave during the audit -- at the conference table, etc.


As an SQF Consultant there is nothing more sinking (feeling) than watching an SQF Auditor repeatitly miss-call items, make gigantic errors and then watch the facility personnel sit there and take it without saying anything.




If you are fully up to speed as the SQF Practitioner and know the code you have no reason whatsoever to not challenge a finding that is wrong.


Some folks feel that challenging an Auditor is a bad thing - I find that not challenging an Auditor that is 100% wrong is the really, really, really BAD thing.


Look, I was one of the first SQF Auditors in the US and I will admit having made a couple of errors, all of which I corrected - but I was never, ever challenged.


And I think the reason why people don't challenge Auditors is due to fear of the unknown.


It's not always an easy thing to challenge an Auditor, for all concerned included the Auditor, but if the Auditor is wrong the question is - Are you willing to take the gig because you are afraid to say something?


On the last Audit that I sat in on the SQF Auditor miss-called 10 (yes, ten) items and gave a major where it should have been a minor - the company personnel froze up and would not challenge - they were willing to take a failure because they were afraid of the Auditor and what he (as they said ) might do to them the next time around if they challenged him.


In this case I challenged him - technically speaking it was not my place to do so. But I knew there was no way there was going to be a failure on  my watch.


So, I challenged him on each point.


We got back all 10 and the major was made a minor.


It disturbed me greatly that there are a number of incompetent SQF Auditors out there - it disturbed me that our client froze up even though going into the Audit they were in good form.


And I am not tooting my horn here, beleive me I really thought about not saying anything, but I just could not sit there and let the situation happen.


All of this comes down to this ----


Know the SQF Code

Know your facility

Be Prepared


Let the Auditor know that you and your team know the code

Let the Auditor know that you will challenge him/her on any items that you feel are miss-placed, wrong, etc.


It's OK to put them on guard, they will certainly be a lot more careful in application.


Stay on task - don't volunteer information to an Auditor unless asked.


Don't let the Audtor nor you get into banter about family, about how this other company did badly or well on their SQF Audit, etc.


Get a good nights sleep and have food and coffee service brought in - everybody appreciates that and it is not seen as a bribe.


Be SQF at your Audit.


Ask questions - don't be a sitting duck waiting for the bullets.


Thank you for your time.

Edited by SQFconsultant, 25 October 2019 - 03:02 PM.

Kind regards,
Glenn Oster
GOC Group | +1.800.793.7042 | Serving the Food, Food Packaging & Food Storage Industries
SQF Development, Implementation, eContinuity & Certification Consultants 
In a nutshell we help small to large businesses to get their act together (as needed), help them to co-develop
entire SQF documentation systems, make recommendations as to installations and repairs in order
to get certified and continue with on-going support thru our popular eConsultant program and we do
all within 30 days so your staff can implement with our assistance to retain and get new business!
Serving the new Republic of the United States of America & Alliance Countries


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#2 kettlecorn


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Posted 25 October 2019 - 04:17 PM

So helpful, Glenn. Thank you. 

#3 jcieslowski


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Posted 25 October 2019 - 05:42 PM

Always a font of wisdom.  I had an audit go sideways once that I should've challenged more.  I was cited for, among many other things, there being 'evidence of food residue' in the microwave in the break room (which was a couple zones away from the production area).   I had records for cleaning and the 'day of records' showed that the break room was due to be cleaned shortly but he wouldn't budge.  


During our 'follow up' audit, the new auditor laughed, then apologized, and refused to visually confirm it because he found it too absurd and just wanted to move on to something more significant.


On the flip side, I had an auditor and one of my QA co-workers get into an argument re: their military service and which branch had the best dress uniform (I wish I were kidding).  This led to that QA person challenging anything the auditor said.   I had to remove him from the audit.  


Fun times!

#4 majoy


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Posted 25 October 2019 - 06:20 PM

This is a good post!


Also, if any SQF auditor is here, reading this, be accepting of criticism and challenges if it was presented to you politely and with all respect by the auditee. Do not feel bad or worst feel like you know everything and you are GOD. The auditee knows their process better than you (hopefully!) and you should take that into account.

"Whatever you do, do it well..." - Walt Disney

#5 pHruit


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Posted 27 October 2019 - 10:34 AM

Great post, Glenn :thumbup:

This is definitely also true for BRC and I'd very much suspect its the case for all standards - if you know your standard, site, and systems well (as is hopefully the case by the time you get to the audit) and then you absolutely should politely challenge errant findings and misunderstandings.

#6 MsMars


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Posted 29 October 2019 - 12:42 PM

Great post.  Well said.  :clap:

#7 CMHeywood


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Posted 30 October 2019 - 07:22 PM

When I worked as a sales person in a music store, I was told to never ask a question where a customer could simply say no.  As much as possible, you would ask a question that would involve a choice:  Do you want this or that?  What features do you want?  Do you have a price limit?


For our first couple of audits, we realized that our employees may not understand what an auditor was asking.  We told them that when they showed a procedure or other document to an auditor, they should ask if this is what the auditor was looking for or if there was something else that the auditor wanted to see.  This would allow the auditor to give a better explanation of what they wanted to see, and would allow the employee to consider if something else should be shown.


An example:  An auditor asked an employee what they do for food safety.  The employee answered that the wore safety shoes.  Personal safety vs. food safety was not a distinction that was a mature concept in the employee's understanding.  If the employee would have asked what else the audtior wanted to know, the employee probably would have understood better that the audtior was asking what they do to prevent contamination.

#8 lisahpw


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Posted 31 October 2019 - 07:43 AM

Great post Glenn,


I am relatively new to SQF audits but I am not new to system audits. IMO by being willing to ask questions with regards to audit findings it will either draw out exactly what the auditor wants to see and give you opportunity to provide the required evidence or if it really is a finding then you get more information as to what was expected thus helping to rectify the non conformance.


Auditors are not untouchable, they don't know everything about your process so as Glenn points out if you disagree with the findings ask the question!



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Posted 01 November 2019 - 01:28 PM

This was a great post, but I have to share a story.


We went through a GFSI audit years ago. It was a rough one, because we weren't actually audited by our supposed auditor. We received a higher up official within the certifying body (who was not particularly thrilled to have to fill-in). Needless to say...this auditor went on to attempt to give us non-conformances for things that were not non-conformances. We attempted to appeal some of the findings...and guess who the appeal was sent to? None other than the person who audited us. That was fun...so much fun that we voided that audit, and moved to an entirely different CB to do the whole process over again.


I do try to challenge when I see something wrong, for sure. However, I've also grown to be very "precise" in my challenges, as that was truly an unnerving experience. 

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#10 Timwoodbag


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Posted 07 November 2019 - 09:26 PM

My auditor for the last two years would ask questions in funny ways to test my knowledge, and as he grew more confident that I knew what I was talking about the questions stopped.  The few times he began to hint there was a non-conformance coming he would listen very intently to my answers, and only ended up knocking us for unarguable points.  


His trust in my knowledge of my systems led to a much easier audit experience, and this year it was a breeze.  

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