Food Safety Audits - Overview

A food safety audit is a systematic, independent and documented activity in which objective evidence is gathered and assessed to determine if a food safety system is appropriate and effective. Food safety audits also provide evidence that food is manufactured in a safe environment and help determine if hazards are properly identified and controlled or eliminated.

Food safety audits evaluate conformance to different audit criterias such as Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), industry specific standards and guidelines, food safety management system standards, customer specific requirements. 


Food safety audits can be used to select suppliers, gain certification or recognition, or to monitor internal conformance with policies and procedures. They can also provide other benefits:

  • identify non-conformances (ex: inadequate or lack of control measures, insufficient training, etc.)
  • identify areas of opportunity for continual improvement
  • improve business performance
  • review and update of a food safety system
  • identify trends (inefficient processes, job performance variation by shift, etc.)
  • identify underlying issues (ex: resistance to change, lack of management commitment, etc.)
  • provide feedback to management
  • promote a sense of ownership in employees
  • improve internal communication

Types of audits

Audits are either internal or external depending on the interrelationship of the audit parties. Any audit conducted within an organization is an internal audit. The rest are external audits. Audits are further classified as first, second or third party audits. Internal audits are first party; external audits are second or third party.

First party

First party audits are done within an organization (the primary one) and are used for self-assessment, internal verification and continual improvement. In some cases, organizations may hire outside audit teams to conduct internal audits for them.

Second party

Second party audits are done by a primary organization on their suppliers and subcontractors to determine their suitability and evaluate their performance. These audits are useful in selecting new suppliers and evaluating the current ones. These audits assess the effectiveness of suppliers' food safety systems in providing safe food or ingredients.

Third party

Third party audits are done on primary organizations by an independent body to verify that a food safety system has been documented and implemented according to specified requirements. Primary organizations use third party audits for several reasons, including:

  • satisfy customer requirements
  • improve their competitive position
  • recognition in the form of a certificate

Audit participants

Audit team

Audits can be done by a single auditor or a whole team. When more than one auditor is involved, one person should be designated as the lead auditor.


The organization being audited is referred to as the auditee and may be:

  • an entire organization
  • a department within an organization
  • a single location
  • multiple sites
  • a process

Audit elements

Generally, audits are done in two stages, documentation review and onsite verification, also called the compliance audit.

Documentation review

The documentation review is the focus for planning the onsite verification. The audit team verifies that the documented programs, procedures and policies are appropriate for the organization, conform to specified requirements and adequately ensure food safety. The documentation review may be conducted on or offsite. A successful documentation review may be needed to proceed with the on-site verification.

Onsite verification

Observations made in the facility may include:

  • documented food safety system is properly implemented and maintained (ex: GMPs, HACCP)
  • food is processed in a safe environment (ex: facility is properly designed and constructed, sanitation procedures are adequate, etc.)
  • monitoring records are logged accurately
  • personnel are trained properly
  • existing controls are monitored adequately

Corrective actions and audit follow-up

Corrective action plans need to be developed and implemented for all non-conformances raised during a food safety audit. Corrective actions have to be assessed to ensure their effectiveness.

Although food safety audits may be disruptive in food processing facilities, they are a key component in all successful food safety systems.

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