Unannounced Audits

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SQFI has made news these past few weeks with their announcement that beginning in 2015 some SQF audits will be unannounced.

While unannounced audits are nothing new to the industry they do always cause concern.  There are many valid reasons to not like unannounced audits:

1.  Vacation schedules can make program and document reviews difficult.

2.  In today’s environment of 900 miles per hour it can be hard to drop everything else and accompany an auditor for 3 days at the drop of a hat.

3.  We all like to be prepared and you can never be completely prepared for “unannounced”.

Of course, from the receiver of the audit side there’s just as many reasons to want an unannounced audit:

1.  Plants often spend untold money and effort to “prepare” for the audit, allowing the facility to lapse afterward.

2.  While difficult, it is not impossible, to prepare for an audit and paint a picture somewhat different than the actual running conditions.  This is especially true of employee behavior and plant conditions.

3.  Disasters, recalls and the like aren’t going to call ahead and schedule.  GFSI is intended to be a continuous improvement process.  How better to identify your opportunities than to truly put your programs under the microscope as they are.

Those of us in quality, and some outside, stress the need to be audit ready at all times.  For just the reasons stated above you don’t want to work in a plant that puts on the full court press just prior to the audit.  These plants don’t really take the process to heart and instead are just applying bandaids to ‘pass’.  No one wants to do business with these companies but how do you really identify them?

I remember working with a plant superintendent who used as a root cause finding “Mark was on vacation” with no effective corrective action.  I was not amused.  My reply was that we should start labeling our product to announce to the consumers when Mark was on vacation so they knew the product wouldn’t be as good or safe during that time.  Ridiculous…  All of us know we are not irreplaceable.  Our programs must be effective independent of the persons involved.

It’s still a bit too early to see the full effects of the SQFI announcement.  BRC has offered a modified unannounced audit for quite some time.  It’s voluntary and a solid program.  SQF’s would appear to go a bit above and beyond the BRC.

Unannounced audits are currently thought of as negative.  All programs have a provision for unannounced audits when first results are less than favorable.  Government agency audits are, for the most part, unannounced.  It certainly is not a foreign concept but one that will be eschewed by industry for the reasons above and many more.

If we truly want to get better this is a concept we should embrace.  Whether the SQF program will be effective is yet to be seen.  I only ask that we keep an open mind and challenge ourselves.  I strongly feel that the North American food supply is the safest in the world.  That doesn’t mean we can’t get better.