Food safety and sanitation programs aren’t just in place for regulatory compliance — they’re a critical part of public safety as they help secure the food supply. With so much at stake, there is no room for poor processes, inadequate training, or carelessness. Leaders in the food and beverage industry need to frequently review procedures and adherence to regularly make adjustments.

To best evaluate these procedures and how effectively employees adhere to them, you need to conduct a food safety and sanitation audit. Food safety and sanitation ultimately depends on the workers in direct contact with products and equipment. Audits help enforce their commitment to high standards — before a breach puts the public in danger — and prepares workers for an unannounced inspection.

How to Conduct a Food Safety and Sanitation Audit

Conducting an effective audit requires a systematic approach to evaluating procedures, facility sanitation, and employee knowledge. Here’s a six-step strategy to follow for an internal audit:

1. Review complaint files

Consumer complaints can teach you just as much about your food safety and sanitation processes as positive feedback does. For example, complaints about flavor could be the result of inadequate removal of sanitizer from work surfaces or other forms of contamination. Take note of any issues that might be related to sanitation procedures so you can be even more watchful of potential breakdowns during an audit.

2. Assemble a multi-disciplinary audit team

An effective food safety and sanitation program depends on adherence from each department, so they should all be part of the audit. Recruit stakeholders from production, quality assurance, shipping, receiving, maintenance, custodial, and other key areas to gather their thoughts on audit strategy and areas of concern. They understand the inner workings of their departments better than top leaders and will be able to make the audit more efficient and thorough.

3. Create an audit schedule

An audit is time consuming and intensive, so doing it all at once could be too disruptive to operations. Break the audit down into sections by department or workstation to avoid worker fatigue, machine downtime, or resource constraints. Release the schedule ahead of time to notify all participants when they’re needed and what will be expected of them during the audit.

4. Execute the audit

During proceedings, auditors should inspect the sanitation conditions of workstations, machinery, and equipment to make sure they meet regulatory standards. Observe employees during process operations and as they follow food safety and sanitation procedures. Verify that all processes are being completed according to procedure documents. Any deviations indicate either a lack of adherence or a need to update documents to match the latest standards.

5. Test corrective actions

Employees should be able to confidently react to mistakes, accidents, or deviations from procedures. Simulate breaches in food safety and sanitation standards to test employee knowledge and preparedness. The corrective actions they deploy should match what’s outlined in procedure documents to ensure the response is appropriate.

6. Evaluate the audit results

When the audit is complete, company leaders should evaluate the effectiveness of existing procedures and how well employees followed them. Take note of any breaches in standards, as they will need to be monitored until corrected. If any practices used during the audit improved food safety and sanitation, update procedures accordingly.

Regular audits do more than identify issues. They help leaders reinforce a culture of compliance — one in which each employee knows that maintaining food safety and sanitation is ultimately a team effort. However, while members of your team may be experts at food safety and sanitation, they may also overlook issues that third-party auditors are trained to catch. Outside support from an organization like AIB International can help manufacturers prevent safety challenges, as well as help staff conduct more rigorous audits. Learn more about our audit support and trusted expertise to strengthen any type of manufacturer’s food safety and sanitation program.

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