How to Prepare for a Food Safety Audit
The Importance of Food Safety
If there are some industries where safety is of utmost importance, there isn’t much debate that the food industry is one of them. Before the U.S. implemented food and safety regulations, a lot of health issues could be traced back to food sources. Today, thanks to various government regulatory agencies, those in the food supply chain must follow detailed and rigorous rules and regulations. Without these guidelines, the health of society’s inhabitants is at great risk.
Food safety is a vital public health precaution, and each business in the food industry is subject to food audits. We’ll explain the different food governing agencies in the U.S. and show you how to prep for a food safety audit.
Agencies and Compliant Rules
If you are part of the food supply chain in the U.S., your organization is held accountable for following food safety regulations with the agencies listed below. Read on to discover more about each agency and the different ways they regulate the American food industry.
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is a management system that addresses food safety by analyzing and controlling the different biological, chemical, and physical hazards from things like raw material production, manufacturing, distribution, and consumption of the final product. HACCP rules apply to the following categories:
- Dairy Grade A Voluntary HACCP: This is a science-backed system meant to ensure food safety hazards are controlled to prevent unsafe dairy products from reaching the consumer. This is an alternative program for dairy plants to use instead of the historically used numerical rating system to measure dairy plan compliance.
- Juice HACCP: This is a set of regulations that must be followed for the safe and sanitary production of juice products.
- Retail & Food Service HACCP: These are a specific set of principles for the retail and food managerial parts of the industry. They help those in the retail and food service industry to cooperate cohesively with regulators to meet the needs in providing safe food for the consumer.
- Seafood HACCP: Provides specific guidance for those in the seafood industry and addresses problems such as fishery product hazards, offers HACCP transition guidance, and general guidance for the industry in compliance with the FDA.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the American agriculture industry by means of regulating the safety of meat, poultry, egg products, and others. The USDA’s laws and regulations include:
- Commodity standards and grades: This is a set way to measure the quality and value of different agricultural commodities, including meat, nuts, poultry, cotton, dairy, grain, and other agricultural products. These standards are set at both the domestic and international trade levels.
- Patents and licensing: These are offered to various entities, from private sector businesses to government entities and educational institutions to encourage research programs and stimulate economic development.
- Quality assurance: The USDA has set federal- and state-recognized quality standards for American food and grain products which include general grades and standards, grain inspection services, and container inspection standards.
- Regulations and directives: These are decided by the USDA to make sure agricultural processes and products comply with federal laws and policies. These include food regulations on:
- Food distribution
- Rural development
- Grain inspection, packing, and stockyards
- Animal and plant health
- Crop and livestock insurance
- and more
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a primary purpose of protecting public health by regulating the safety and security of America’s food supply, products, medicine, and medical devices. They regulate a wide range of food products excluding certain foods that fall under USDA regulation. The FDA-specific regulations include:
- Food guidance & regulation: The FDA provides detailed information instructing food organizations on regulatory food safety programs, manufacturing processes, industry systems, import/export activities, and gives links to important federal registration documents.
- Compliance & enforcement: The FDA keeps track of U.S. organizations and the food they produce as well as foreign-produced exported products. Groups that are found not to be compliant with regulations will be answerable to the FDA, who handles violations. The FDA provides resources for compliance, enforcement, analytical resources, and more to those in the food and drug industries.
Consequences of Non-Compliance
The consequences of noncompliance with food safety law, and not meeting all of the state and federal regulatory standards, are severe. Violating food industry compliance can result in:
- Unlimited fines.
- Change of your company’s legal status.
- Vulnerability to lawsuits.
- Audits conducted by government agencies.
- A complete shutdown of the business.
The consequences for skirting regulations or violating laws in regard to the food industry are especially unforgiving because public health and safety are at risk when these regulations are not correctly followed or ignored. Not paying close attention to food safety and regulation can not only mean high fines (and legal costs) but could result in the end of your business.
Food Safety Audits
Food safety audits are imperative to your business because they help prove that you are properly following food safety guidelines and laws. Audits are a required standard in the food supply chain, so every organization by law must participate, but there are plenty of other reasons why a food safety audit is good for business. A food safety audit can:
- Help organizations improve their management system and reevaluate priorities.
- Give a better direction for achieving business goals.
- Take inventory of any incidents and identify problems that need to be fixed for better efficiency.
- Help businesses meet regulatory and legal requirements.
- Analyze supplier evaluations and customer feedback/requirements.
Food Audit Preparation Checklist
Food audits are proof that your business and its operations are consistently compliant with legal standards. Here we’ve provided a food audit checklist for you to ensure you meet food safety standards:
- Conduct an internal audit at least two months prior to the food audit, going over details such as:
- Ensuring all facilities are cleaned and tidy, including office and storage spaces.
- Items are in the correct places and clearly labeled.
- Ample space is made between storage items and the wall for pest control and cleaning purposes.
- Have an outside party conduct a “test” audit to identify any potential issues you might have missed.
- Hold a staff meeting in the weeks leading up to the food audit.
- Make sure each employee is aware of their individual responsibilities in relation to the audit.
- Employees must be aware of HACCP principles and application guidelines.
- Important/higher level staff must recognize key terms, i.e. the difference between verification and validation and “corrective action”.
- Conduct exercises and practices leading up to the audit to be sure everyone is comfortable in their roles and responsibilities.
- Help train staff on how to give good answers and avoid pitfalls.
- Fill out all necessary documentation before the auditor arrives.
- Have important documentation readily available to show the auditor when they arrive.
- Correct/improve any pre-identified weaknesses before the day of the audit.
- Make sure all senior staff have a clear schedule to attend both opening and closing meetings.
- Request the auditor’s credentials.
- Have a plan established for any non-conformances identified.
- Make sure to have a positive attitude!
bcFood’s food safety feature makes this entire process much more streamlined and easy. With bcFood, our software keeps your business in line with items like lot management, quality assurance, and a lot more. Contact us for more information about how this solution can help you stay on track with food safety audits.