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Planning and conducting an internal audit can be a stressful time for auditors. Many first time auditors wonder:

• Where do I start?

• How much time will I need

• What do I need to audit?

• Who will I interview?

Following a step-by-step process goes a long way to alleviate this stress.

STEP 1 – Type of audit

As an internal auditor you will need to know what type of audit you are going to conduct. For example:

• Audit of organisational processes as part of business improvement

• Audit of compliance to Australian, international standards, legislation such as the Food Act

The amount of time required to plan and prepare will vary considerably depending on the audit type and its requirements.

STEP 2 – Where do I focus my audit?

Most organisations have an ‘audit schedule' that describes when each area or activity within an organisaation is to be audited. An effective auditor will look to become familiar with the procedures and activities in the area to be audited. A review of the flow diagrams, hazard audit tables, site plans, relevant procedures, and previous audit reports will provide information on the nature and scale of activities carried out. This will help an effective auditor target the audit activities, records, equipment and processes.

You may also wish to consider:

• Customer feedback

• Supplier performance

• Re-work and downgrade

• Corrective actions and non-conformances

• Previous audit reports

Finding out where this information is kept and speaking with the staff responsible for a process is a starting point in developing the auditor’s understanding of the ‘big picture’ - that is, how the organisation operates, its risks and controls. This will also assist you in determining your objective for the audit.

STEP 3 – Putting a plan together

As if the above wasn’t enough to think about, you as an auditor now have to consider how you will manage your time during the audit. This is referred to as an audit plan and can be as simple or as complex as you and/or your organisation requires. With this in mind, your plan of activities can be via an electronic appointment, email, formal document attached to an email etc. Some points of information the person being audited will want to know is:

• Date of the audit

• Time of the audit (especially how long)

• What are you auditing them against (organisation procedures, HACCP, Food Standards Code

• The food business processes and locations you will be auditing

• The name of the auditor

• Records, reports etc. you would like them to have available as evidence

STEP 4 – Choosing the day of the audit

When choosing the day and time of the audit, it is a good idea to find out what else is going on in the business. For instance you might need to consider when external audits (certification/accreditation, regulatory, financial) being conducted, peak times/shut downs and end of financial year a good time to audit?

These points need to be considered to ensure that staff are available and attentive so you can get the best out of the audit.

STEP 5 – Conducting the audit

By doing your homework and reading the relevant procedures you will be well prepared for the audit. From this understanding, you will be able to ask questions a way that makes sense to the person being audited.

When ready to begin the audit you will need to hold an 'entry interview' where you explain to the supervisor / manager of the area about the audit process and answer any question they may have.

During the audit it is likely you would review:

• the facilities and equipment where food is handled and processed

• records e.g. food receipt, cleaning, thermometer calibration, pest control, refrigerator temperature checks and training

• that digital thermometers are working and accurate

• that food grade sanitiser is available and is used.

• how allergens are managed

• that food handlers have adequate skills and knowledge in food safety.

Internal auditors are generally free to talk with a good cross-section of staff involved in the process being audited. Speaking solely with management will not give you a good perspective on what is happening.

You will conclude your audit with an exit interview where you provide feedback. Remember your role as the auditor is to collect information and evidence then report it back to the decision makers within your organisation

STEP 6 – Audit Reports

A good report is one that attracts the intended reader’s attention. Most organisations have audit report templates in place with main categories of information required listed. A good report enables a person who was not present during the audit to understand what was audited and where improvements may be required. A tip is to keep it simple and easy to read. In our case we want our reports to be read by top management. It is important that senior management see your reports as a valuable resource.

Food Safety Auditing and Quality Assurance

To be effective, the food industry needs to meet various safety requirements. How you meet these requirements are assessed by auditors who understand regulations and are properly competent in the management systems approach. Our food safety auditor training courses aim to prepare you to how to audit and keep in compliance with the constantly changing legislative and food safety challenges. 

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