In an industry that still relies on hard-copy records and face-to-face business, navigating COVID-19 has pushed more food companies into embracing new working systems. Included in this mix are remote auditing methods. Their use has been limited due to companies preferring regular onsite visits. However, to protect employee health and keep production lines rolling, more companies are transitioning to remote auditing to ensure food safety and quality standards.
From document checks to employee interviews, remote audits follow the same process as in-person audits, says Shamonique Schrick, FSQA Solutions Architect for SafetyChain Software. Whether being hosted via phone or video, the most significant difference is that documents are shared ahead of time on a private digital portal.
“Companies keeping digital records can transfer files over to the portal that only the assigned auditor has access to so all documents can remain confidential. For those keeping paper records, scans or photos of documents can be uploaded,” said Schrick. “Aside from that, the process of the audit, and most importantly, the quality of the audit, are the same.”
As remote audits become the accepted ‘go-to’ process, Schrick says that both the company and the auditor should be aware that this is a new way of working for both parties. Click for additional information. Courtesy of SafetyChain.
“If everyone realizes that it is a new and slightly different process, it will help everything to go a little smoother and reduce the pressure for it to be perfect,” adds Schrick. “Remember, there are humans on both sides working through some difficult times together right now.”
In the pre-planning stage, companies and auditors should agree on which platform is going to be used to host the audit. Neal advises the use of webcams, especially for personnel interviews. It is also useful to get video footage of different monitoring systems that will be part of the audit for adequate review.
“A regular onsite audit can often turn into a high-stress situation because a lot is going on, and it is very time-consuming. This principle applies to remote audits – stay calm and work with the auditor,” said Neal. “For all you know, auditors might be stressed because this is a new way of working for them, too. They may also be trying to figure it out.”
If you’re working from home, keeping a quiet environment will be more challenging for some people.
“Many of us are working from home right now, so we have dogs in the background, cars driving down the street or kids screaming in the background,” said Neal. “It may be hard but do your best to get into a quiet environment with minimal interruptions.”
As part of the pre-planning work, Neal recommends companies and auditors maintain open communication about the structure and process of the remote audit, so both parties know how to be prepared.
“This is important so we can move through the audit efficiently without unnecessary distractions,” he said. “If there’s no confusion about what’s being discussed, we can more clearly understand everyone.”
Neal’s final tip is to take the system for a test drive with the auditor before the actual audit begins.
“This could be something like the day before asking everyone involved to jump on a call and make sure the technology works and everything is up and running before dealing with each other for eight hours. Overall, make sure everyone is comfortable with the technology being used and try to implement practices that will make things go as smoothly as possible. And remember, this is going to require patience on both sides,” he said.
As the industry sees more companies embrace remote auditing, both Neal and Schrick agree that this way of working is not just a temporary fix that will disappear once it is safe to resume the traditional working methods used before the pandemic. The process will continue to bring its unique advantages to the food processing industry and help make it better.
“Remote auditing is a tool that will have longevity in our industry – there’s going to be a lot of good things that come out of it that will continue to add value in the future,” said Schrick. “Adapting to our current challenges is going to make the food industry better and stronger.”
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