External Food Safety Audits


An external food safety audit is done by an organization that is not associated with your company. There are two types of external audits: second party and third party. A second party audit is performed when your customer or supplier audits you, or when you audit them. A third party audit is performed by an independent audit organization or government agency.

During an external audit, auditors gather objective evidence to demonstrate that your food safety system:

  • meets the program or customer requirements
  • is properly implemented
  • works effectively to control food safety hazards

Benefits of external audits

External audits are a tool. They can provide evidence that your company produces food in a safe environment, and that you are in control of your food safety hazards. Increasingly, customers are demanding proof of food safety systems before they will buy food products. Successfully completing an external audit may be a condition of your customer's contract.

External audits also promote continual improvement of your food safety systems by identifying areas of weakness in your program.

Who to select for a third party audit?

There are many companies offering food safety auditing services. Investigate what type of third party audit you and your customers require to meet your needs. Your decision as to which company to use may be based on:

  • accreditation
  • auditor qualifications and availability
  • cost
  • customer requirements

Applying for an external audit

While customers or suppliers may initiate a second party audit, it could be your responsibility to initiate a third party audit. Many audit organizations require you to initiate audits, while government agencies often take the initiative. The process will be more efficient if you are well prepared.

It is recommended that you implement your food safety system and collect monitoring records for at least three months before applying for an external audit. You may be asked to submit the following documents:

  • application form
  • company's Food Safety Management System (FSMS) policy
  • GMP written programs, policies, procedures, HACCP plans, blank records
  • supporting documents (ex: technical or scientific data used to validate critical control points)

Audit plan

Once your application is received, your auditor may develop an audit plan. This will outline audit dates, estimated time required for the audit, tentative schedule, agenda and scope of the audit.

Audit preparation

After applying, there are a number of items that require attention:

It is important to prepare your employees for the external audit. Employees and those who do work that affects food safety may be observed or interviewed by the auditor. Remind them all how important their roles are to this audit process.

If interviewed, employees may be asked questions about:

  • their roles and duties, and their impact on food safety
  • critical limits, monitoring procedures and deviation procedures
  • records they complete
  • where to find information they need

Ask all employees to:

  • review their GMP and HACCP responsibilities
  • answer audit questions openly and honestly
  • co-operate fully with the auditors
  • if a non-conformance is observed, take initiative to correct it if appropriate

Record and document preparation

Ensure records and documents are complete, easy to find and well organized. If you use computer records, you may want to print out examples for the auditors in advance. Confirm that you are using the most current version of your documents and records, and that obsolete copies are removed.

Audit process

Throughout the process, auditors will make note of their findings and document any observations and non-conformances. Generally, audits follow these steps:

Documentation review

You and the auditor will agree whether the documentation review will occur on or off-site.

Auditors will assess if:

  • written programs are present and meet the necessary requirements
  • HACCP plans and critical control points are science-based and capable of controlling hazards
  • records are appropriate

Opening meeting

The lead auditor holds an opening meeting. At minimum, the HACCP co-ordinator and top management should attend. You may decide to invite other staff. The lead auditor will review:

  • objective of the audit to confirm the standards you want to achieve (ex: ISO 22000 certification)
  • scope of the audit to define areas covered by the audit and to clarify areas excluded from the audit
  • schedule for the audit to minimize conflict with production schedules, break times and availability of interviewees
  • other arrangements such as meals and company policies (ex: safety, confidentiality)

Orientation / introductory tour

Offer the auditors a brief tour of your facility to familiarize them with your operation. Introduce key personnel that might be involved in the audit.

On-site verification audit

Auditors will observe working conditions, employees performing their tasks and how records are kept. Auditors must be accompanied at all times by an auditor escort.

Auditors will assess if your food safety system is:

  • implemented as written
  • effective at controlling food safety hazards

The auditors look for proof your system is working. They gather objective evidence by checking:

  • design, construction and maintenance of your facility
  • accuracy of process flow diagram and plant schematic

They also check that:

  • employees are trained and are following policies and procedures
  • monitoring records are complete
  • corrective actions are taken and appropriate

Closing meeting

The lead auditor conducts the closing meeting. At minimum, the HACCP co-ordinator and top management should attend. You may decide to invite other staff.

During this meeting, the results of the audit and recommendation are discussed. The auditor may present audit findings, observations, opportunities for improvement and corrective action requests.

Corrective action requests and plans

An audit without corrective action requests (CARs) is not common. A CAR is a request made by an auditor to address non-conformances found during the audit.

You must develop a written corrective action plan (CAP) to address each request. Your response must be submitted within an agreed time. Each CAP must detail the intended plan of action to eliminate the cause of the non-conformance.

Corrective actions may need to be verified on-site. This will be determined by the auditor.

Although external audits may require effort and preparation, they are an important tool to strengthen your food safety system and to satisfy your customers.

For more information, email the Food Safety and Inspection Branch or call 204-795-8418 in Winnipeg.