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Food Safety Audits During COVID19: Mitigating Exposure During an SQF Audit Pt. 1

September 14, 2020

An extraordinary event known as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many sites to adapt operations. Sites are thinking outside the box and taking different approaches to protect both their staff and the global food supply.

To alleviate some audit stress, we updated the SQF Audit Policy in June, 2020, to align with GFSI remote activities requirements. This update allows Sites to conduct 50% of the audit using remote activities. But what about the other 50%? How can sites stay safe during an audit in the era of COVID-19 Pandemic?

We sat down with Tammie Van Buren, SQFI’s Compliance Manager to bring you some insight and tips for auditing during a pandemic.

  1. How can we determine if we are ready to allow an auditor on site?

Many companies implemented no visitor policies throughout the pandemic. Following GFSI guidelines, SQFI approved extensions to existing certificates for sites that are deemed low risk for extension. We also updated our audit policy to include up to 50% utilization of remote activities. Sites must first perform a risk assessment with their certification bodies to determine their next step.

As audits pick up, SQF sites must remember that the process for determining course of action remains the same.  As a certified site, performing a risk analysis and implementing mitigation strategies should be very familiar.

  1. What hazards are sites concerned with when allowing auditors on site?

Most sites are concerned about the risk of virus transmission from the auditor to site personnel. According to the CDC’s FAQs document, transmission is “thought to spread mainly from person to person, mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Spread is more likely when people are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).”

Many organizations have guidelines and suggestions in place for addressing the transmission that include safety measures like hand washing, social distancing, wearing face masks and using hand sanitizer.

  1. What else can be done to minimize the exposure in a manufacturing facility?

Work closely with your certification body and your auditor prior to your audit window. Make sure to keep an open communication flow and inform your certification body of any important changes to the site or policy.

SQFI has waived the unannounced audit protocol for the remainder of 2020. This allows sites to schedule and be prepared for an auditor being on-site.

We must identify the lessons learned and update procedures accordingly. This will allow us to be prepared for the next extraordinary event. Stay tuned for Part 2: Tips to Minimize Exposure During an SQF Audit.

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