Supplier audits are an important part of verifying supplier compliance with industry best practices as well as your own internal requirements. While some suppliers will hire third-party auditors to demonstrate compliance, developing your own internal standards and bringing in your own representatives can ultimately provide better visibility.
This post outlines strategies for streamlining the process, so you can better prevent supplier issues that lead to food safety problems.
Phase 1: Planning the Audit
Planning is critical, because it sets the stage for all the work that follows. Below are some tips to help you plan your audits more effectively.
- Selecting suppliers to audit. Focus on those suppliers with the largest impact on food safety in your organization. Volume isn’t the only consideration—you’ll also want to look at which suppliers introduce the most risk to your organization. This is easy to evaluate if you use a Food Safety Management System (FSMS) with Risk Management capabilities.
- Scheduling audits. Automated tools within the FSMS can make it easier to keep to an audit schedule that meets everyone’s needs.
- Create your checklists. Again, the FSMS simplifies this process, letting you create and access a central repository of questions for quickly making custom checklists.
- Review past problems. Supplier audits should include special focus on past noncompliances.
- Consider unannounced audits. It’s controversial, but many retailers and companies in other industries conduct surprise audits to get a more realistic snapshot of supplier operations (instead of the polished version). If nothing else, you can include language in your supplier quality agreements that leaves the option open, which can encourage vendors to do the right thing even when you’re not watching.
Phase 2: Conducting the Audit
When conducting the audit, there are several tips that can help you maximize your efforts and streamline the overall process.
- Revisit previous issues. As mentioned above, one important focus should be verifying that suppliers have addressed previous problems. Risk-based tools within the FSMS can help you quantify whether risk has been reduced to acceptable levels, or whether the issue requires further action.
- Look at procedures carefully. Many companies focus entirely on just earning a passing score, often scrambling to throw together new documentation in the last few weeks before an audit. If the procedures are less than a month old, you or your representative should probably ask employees questions to uncover whether they’re truly familiar with these new procedures.
- Go mobile. Some FSMS software now offers mobile capabilities, which are a huge help in streamlining audits. You can download checklists for offline use, upload photos to the audit record and even automatically sync results once the audit is complete.
Phase 3: Audit Follow-Up
The real work begins once the audit is finished. That’s when you’ll analyze findings and make sure any issues are addressed appropriately. Because if there’s anything we can learn from previous food safety disasters, leaving problems unresolved can lead to major contamination problems.
There are two key tools you’ll want to leverage here:
- Reporting. Centralized Reporting tools within the FSMS increase visibility into audit findings, helping you spot trends and pinpoint hazards that need to be mitigated.
- Corrective Action. An integrated FSMS will include a whole suite of Supplier Management tools, including the ability to assign and track corrective actions to suppliers. Secure Web-based portals allow suppliers to participate in your FSMS, while automatically routing requests through the corrective action process.
It’s scary when you read about companies that earned passing scores from third-party auditors just before major contamination events. Developing your own internal standards and working to strengthen the audit process can protect against this, helping you build partnerships with suppliers who are as committed to food safety and protecting consumers as you are.