Quality and safety organizations have completely altered their practices throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. As traditional, in-person auditing was largely halted due to the pandemic, new auditing methods have emerged, and brands across all areas of the supply chain—including food manufacturers, distributors, packagers, food service providers, and restaurants/food retailers—have had to find new ways to manage food safety.
As we enter our next normal, I believe some COVID-driven practices will remain. Here are three long-term insights that I’ve gleaned:
When traditional audits aren’t safe, practical, or cost-effective, remote auditing is a necessary tool for maintaining quality and safety.
If done the right way, engagement with location employees is greater when non-traditional auditing practices, such as virtual auditing, are used.
The next normal will include individual self-assessments and location assessments conducted by the person in charge (PIC) PLUS traditional audits.
Remote Auditing Is Here to Stay
During the pandemic, traditional, in-person auditing was largely paused due to travel restrictions, in-person restrictions, and other COVID-related safety protocols. As a result, we saw a drop in auditing counts, a spike in self-auditing, and the need for innovative ways to gain visibility as auditing-as-we-knew-it was unfeasible.
When traditional auditing methods were temporarily unavailable, there was still a pressing need for auditing and the information obtained through the process. That’s when virtual audits came into play, and it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve seen come out of the pandemic to protect food safety and quality.
Remote audits (also known as virtual audits) cover everything that an onsite audit does, including conducting employee interviews, examining company records, and reviewing programs and procedures. The auditor uses technology (rather than in-person inspections) to conduct the assessments. Like in-person inspections, remote audits—using livestreaming, teleconferencing, and data transfer systems—focus on structure, cleanliness, and hygienic conditions and practices.
Increasingly, companies are pivoting to remote auditing so they can demonstrate through independent verification that they are meeting the most stringent food safety standards. Additionally, nonconformances come to light more and may be fixed faster, ultimately protecting your employees, customer, and brand.
Benefits to Remote Auditing
Remote auditing offers many additional benefits that support and supplement your current auditing programs and quality management system, including:
A boost to continuous quality. Traditional audits will not go away, but they have a weakness—they only provide a point-in-time snapshot of compliance. Adding virtual audits gives you a more cost-effective way to monitor quality on a continuous basis, making data-based decisions more powerful.
Greater efficiency and visibility. Virtual methods allow for more audits to be conducted without breaking your budget. This increased frequency provides greater oversight and more data collection for greater visibility into compliance across your business.
Perks of a collaborative approach. Remote audits allow location employees to interact with the auditor. This can allow them to ask more questions and get immediate feedback, creating an atmosphere of collaboration rather than fearing “the big bad auditor.” This also helps employees feel more engaged, knowledgeable, and empowered to solve problems on their own.
An affordable addition to quality systems. Even though auditors will still need to travel for in-person audits, that doesn’t mean that every audit has to be onsite. Virtual audits can eliminate the need to travel for follow-up assessments.
Methods for Performing Remote Audits
There are two main ways to conduct remote audits by capturing and analyzing video feeds:
Remote auditing through installed cameras. With this method, cameras deployed throughout the business are continuously running and transmitting a video feed. Then, remote auditors review and analyze random segments of live and/or recorded video feeds via the web or a digital platform. Random selection helps auditors see things as they really are so businesses can make realistic, data-driven decisions. It’s an effective method for continuous quality efforts.
Remote auditing via walk-through video. Managers and employees may facilitate remote audits by filming or video-chatting a walk-through of the operation using video-calling tools, such as Zoom or FaceTime. Auditors can ask employees to show them specific areas of concern and talk them through corrective action even before a feedback report is produced.
Thanks to the FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety plan, food businesses and certification bodies are motivated to embrace new approaches to food safety verification, especially in our new, post-COVID world. Virtual auditing is a promising development that’s evolving the way food safety checks are conducted. Regularly verifying food safety practices through audits—either remotely or in-person—is critical for the health of businesses and their customers.
As president of RizePoint, Kari Hensien is passionate about finding the right auditing, quality system management, and supplier certification management for the unique and specific business needs of every customer. Her goal is to find ways to streamline and automate existing customer programs, so quality leaders and do less admin work and make more meaningful business contributions. If you want to learn more about buying a QMS, download this FREE EBOOK. If you wish to discuss RizePoint’s solutions, please contact Kari at firstname.lastname@example.org.