How technology can support the food safety audit process

Julianne Bisognini

When it comes to food safety, Rentokil is always looking for ways to educate people on how to leverage the latest technologies for better support on pest control programs.

In a three-episode webinar series, Rentokil invited John Kukoly, Americas Director at BRC Global Standards, to join two of our own experts, Judy Black, VP of Technical Services, and Chad Gore, Ph.D., Entomologist and Market Technical Director, in exploring how technology can support food processors that face strict standards as part of audit requirements.

 Here are a few of the key takeaways:

The current audit process

Evidence-gathering, risk assessment, verification, roles and responsibilities, and follow-up. In a few words, this is what an external audit process looks like when auditors are in the field, looking for compliance with established specifications.

Many food processors are taking proactive steps to provide accurate records and documentation to meet audit requirements. Their vendors, including pest control companies, are collecting data from barcoded devices, creating digital service reports, and providing data on websites. However, in the absence of a robust technology ecosystem, inputting data requires intensive labor, leaving the process susceptible to human error and inefficiency.

How technology and audits come together

The audit process is continually evolving, requiring businesses to pivot, shift, and adapt the way they respond to an audit. There is a convergence of the external oversight, moving from the historical question of “What is the program?” to a new perspective of “Show me the program, prove it works, and how you follow it.” This evidence-based approach can be seen in audits conducted under the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and in government-mandated laws such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and inspections conducted by regulatory authorities, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This new approach forces companies to respond to more complex questions whose answers often rely on a varied number of sources. When working with specific programs such as pest control, staying on top of food safety requirements and what is happening at the plant is a full-time job. Not every company has the resources to designate an internal team member to this task.

That is where technology plays a significant role. The Internet of Things (IoT), a proper combination of connected devices and a cloud-based system, can easily track a pest presence in real time and gather data to determine trends, enabling decisions on what is best for a facility and proving how those decisions work for the business.

How data can position your facility for audit success

Today, much of the audit process centers around documentation review. Auditors study your documentation and reports as they look for different things. They do not only want to check if you have programs and mechanisms in place to correct problems as they are reported but also want to know how you use the information to identify trends and mitigate future issues.

For example, this may mean that a rodent caught by a device is evidence that there is something to be improved. Are there structural gaps to be corrected? Is there an issue with a certain supplier?

With the correct data and reporting, your facility may be able to predict pest activities based on weather, facility structure, seasonality, etc. Data is now a fundamental tool that allows your business and your pest control provider to design the most customized program that will put the right procedures in place before problems actually arise.

When audit failures happen

Navigating complex third-party audit standards can be a challenge. The cost for not meeting the requirements can be extremely high: an audit failure can damage your relationships with customers, hinder your chances of getting new business, and even damage employee morale.

Failed audits can occur due to lack of basic preparation, incomplete or lack of documentation, excessive non-conformities, or a significant issue discovered. In many cases, the business can still get the certification by presenting evidence of corrective actions within a few weeks after the audit. In more severe cases, the certification is not granted, and a re-audit will be required.

When a pest problem results in deductions, it is necessary to re-assess the facility, review treatments and protocols, and come up with an approved pest management plan. The responsible team should consult with their pest control provider to determine an effective resolution. The pest control vendor should be able to add new products and solutions to the pest management program – such as monitored devices connected to an online data management system – that will provide proof of service documentation, recommendations, and responses that can be presented as the evidence of corrective actions to the certifying organization.

A Digital Future

When used correctly, digital technologies allow food plant managers to demonstrate a proactive commitment to food safety standards. In the area of pest control specifically, having a pest control data management system gives operators complete oversight of their pest control program and enhances their ability to support the audit process.

Appropriate digital tools also mean that the teams now have access to a robust visual representation of data to create reports for various purposes, setting your facility for audit success.

Managing the food safety audit process is a critical part of operating a food plant, but it’s not the only part. That’s why having a suite of digital tools at your disposal is helpful: it takes the burden of recording data off of you so that you can focus on your core business of producing high-quality food for your customers.

Julianne Bisognini
Julianne Bisognini

As the Segment Marketing Manager at Rentokil North America, Julianne got the perfect role for an innate organized person: connecting tons of industry information with the business strategy, and understanding how the company can better serve the community. If you can't find her at home during the weekends, that's because she is probably outdoors, enjoying the nature and the blue sky of North Carolina.

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