Are you getting the most out of your Internal Audits?

It’s quite often the first thing a new client asks me… “We do our Internal Audits but we continually receive non-conformances from External Audits?”. The plain truth in many food businesses is that they aren’t conducting Internal Audits in a manner which meets the requirements of their GFSI, Industry and Customer Standards and to ensure they are getting the most out of their Quality Assurance Programs. 

In short… they really aren’t getting the maximum benefit out of their Internal Audits! Internal Audits are intended not only to Verify Compliance… they are an integral element of any business’ ability to improve their management systems and face ‘risk’ head on!

A properly scheduled, planned and implemented Internal Audit Program will identify system conformance, failure and opportunities for improvement, but to achieve this you’ll need to ensure appropriate levels of human and financial resources are available to support the process. No doubt there’ll be some readers who’ll be rolling their eyes at the mere notion of the required “human and financial resources” for their Food Safety and Quality Program, but a strong and well-structured Internal Audit process is guaranteed to save your business money… even in the short term!

I recall discussing Food Safety and Quality ‘resourcing’ requirements with a Food Sector Client a few years ago, and I conducted a simple review activity with the CEO and Quality Assurance Manager of the large multi-site Food Production Company based in the USA. We worked out the cost (to the business) of facilitating Internal Food Safety and Quality System Audits over the prior 3 years, and compared this to the cost of rectifying Food Safety and Quality System Non-conformances raised at External Audits (conducted to GFSI, Industry and Customer Standards). 

It was no surprise to me (based on my experience) that there was a massive in-balance between the two outcomes. Even when we removed the cost of the physical (I.e. required maintenance works and equipment replacement) improvements required to rectify the non-conformances, the cost of rectifying such non-conformances represented a premium of at least 600% to the cost of their Internal Audit processes. 

Part of my recommendation in this scenario was to suggest additional Internal Audit ‘time’ to at least triple that of the prior identified levels. I participated as a mentor to the business for their Internal Audit Processes (among other Food Safety and Quality System elements). Within 12 months, the ratio of ‘Internal Audit Cost’ to ‘External Audit non-conformance cost’ had reduced to just 50%, so the business was well on their way to significantly lowering their compliance expenditure. It is important within this example to acknowledge that such a stellar turn-around was only achieved with the genuine commitment of Management through a strategic approach to providing the required human and financial resources. Download the full version here...