With BRCGS expecting a minimum of four Internal Audits per year, the importance of understanding this process cannot be overstated.

At its core, an Internal Audit is about verifying the processes at your site – making sure your operation meets the relevant standards and is doing what it should to protect the consumer.

Internal Audits are also inextricably linked to improvement. After all, they offer you and your operatives the chance to resolve non-conformities before they are identified by an external inspector, a retailer, or as a product safety issue.

Training at your site will also heavily rely on the outcome of your Internal Audits, with the process helping your team to gain a more in depth understanding of their duties and to prepare for external inspections.

With so many benefits to offer, Internal Audits need to be treated with the respect they deserve, so with that in mind, we have put together a guide to conducting a successful internal inspection, identifying four ways for you to make the most of this process.

This article is directed towards sites that are audited against Version 9 of the BRCGS Global Food Safety Standard. For further guidance on the best approach to conducting a successful Internal Audit, see the BRCGS Webinar: Ask the Experts – Episode 4: Internal Audits

Structuring your Internal Audits

Those familiar with Version 9 of the BRCGS Global Food Safety Standard will know there isn’t a set way to structure an Internal Audit. Instead, your approach should be decided by a series of risk assessments. Perhaps your site has recently launched a gluten-free line? Maybe your operation keeps being pulled up for the same non-conformity? Whatever the case, this is your chance to structure your audit in a way that targets these areas. As mentioned above, BRCGS expects a minimum of four audits a year, but there is nothing stopping you from carrying out additional audits in the areas where you identify an increased amount of risk.

Although the Standard expects your Internal Audits to cover all of its requirements, there is no expectation that you audit everything in one go. With this in mind, you may decide to split up the process into more manageable chunks. For example, you could audit against your HACCP plan, Food Safety and Hygiene, then Allergen Management and so on until all aspects of your operation have been covered.

Addressing the Culture at your site

One of the best ways to secure a successful Internal Audit is to first consider the culture at your site. Far too often Internal Audits are viewed as extra work, a tick box exercise, or a negative experience that highlights the failings of each department.

Instead, Internal Audits should be understood as a positive experience for everyone involved. They should exist as a learning exercise that grants the various departments at your site the opportunity to address any non-conformities before they are identified by an external inspector.

You should also be pushing this mindset one step further, encouraging your operatives to view Internal Audits as a tool for continuous improvement. Rather than audits being something to pass or fail, they should be part of your site’s ongoing efforts to to raise standards and deliver on quality.

To achieve this goal, we would recommend working through the following action points:

Remember to include any internal auditing responsibilities in the job descriptions of your operatives and highlight this aspect of the role during interview. Internal Auditing shouldn’t be an extra task squeezed into a busy schedule, it should be regarded as a key responsibility.

Another important step is to give both your Internal Auditors and your site staff plenty of notice when an Internal Audit is coming up. This strategy will obviously differ if your site is preparing for an unannounced audit, but if not, you should prioritise open communication and ensure everyone is available to participate.

Finally, it’s important that you reward success, rather than highlight failure. Although it is highly likely that your Internal Audit will bring up areas of non-conformity, your operatives should be supported in this instance rather than punished. By carrying out a thorough root cause analysis, you can identify new equipment, instrumentation, or training that will not only resolve this non-conformity, but will also make life easier for the affected team.

If your operatives know to expect positive action instead of negative consequences, they will be much more likely to engage with the process.

Appointing your Internal Auditors

It’s important to have the right number of Internal Auditors at your site, otherwise you will be at risk of falling behind schedule. You should also consider training up Deputy Internal Auditors who can step in if your Auditing Lead has an extended period of time off work.

When appointing your Internal Auditors, you need to make sure the people you select have experience in the areas they are auditing. Although it would be beneficial, this experience doesn’t have to be extensive. Sometimes even a twenty minute sit down with a department lead can make all the difference. Qualifications are also worth considering. For example, if your auditor will be auditing HACCP Compliance, they will ideally have a HACCP qualification.

The final point to consider is: will your training take place on-site or off-site? If you have a highly experienced auditor on-site, you may decide to carry out internal training, benefiting from trial audits and easy communication with your auditors. However, it’s important to remember that this training will be thoroughly audited to ensure it follows the rules of an auditing training course.

Carrying our your Internal Audits

Perhaps the most important point to stress is that your Internal Audits should never be a tick box exercise that you only carry out in the hopes of passing your official audit. The best way to safeguard against this is to make sure any auditing documents have plenty of space for feedback. This is incredibly important, as if an external auditor picks up on an Internal Audit that looks rushed, they are likely to reinvestigate. However, if your Internal Auditors include at least a couple of sentences for each point, this will demonstrate an understanding what is being assessed.

Going into detail will also help the wider team to understand exactly how far off they are from a non-conformity. Say your team is compliant in all but one essential area, they will need to know which area this is in order to make the necessary changes. Alternatively, if your team is failing to secure compliance against a number of points, they will need to pay particular attention to this area of non-conformance.

You should also consider making the switch to a Cloud-Based Quality Management System, as this will eliminate the inaccuracies and hassle of your team filling out endless piles of paperwork. A Cloud-Based System will also give you the option of easily sharing your reports. This will come in handy when taking corrective measures following an Internal Audit and will also be of use if part of your external audit is carried out remotely. A digital approach is also conducive to the storage of photographic evidence. This is something External Auditors love to see, so it’s important that your Internal Auditors are also taking lots of pictures as they tour your site.

You now have four areas to consider when it comes to conducting a successful Internal Audit. Hopefully this article has helped you to identify the ways in which you are already succeeding, along with the ways in which you could further enhance your approach.

Perhaps the main takeaway from this guide is that across all four areas mentioned above, preparation is key. Instead of rushing through and possibly resenting the process, Internal Audits should be one of the most useful tools at your disposal.

If you require any further guidance in this area or would like to learn more about Cloud-Based Quality Management Systems, the Klipspringer team would be happy to help with your enquiries. You can contact us on 01473 461800 or sales@klipspringer.com. Alternatively, you can use the form below to arrange a consultation

If you would like further guidance relating to your audit compliance and TRAKKD, the Klipspringer team would be happy to help. Share your details below to arrange a free consultation.