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Preparing for a Food Safety Audit With Digital Tools

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HeavyConnect Team
Using a mobile app to fill out digital reports

Since FSMA was introduced in 2011, the number of annual audits an average grower experiences has increased dramatically, all with the goal of improving food safety for the end consumer. Between internal audits, buyer audits, and federal annual audits, growers are experiencing more pressure than ever to rigorously document their food safety program or risk losing buyer relationships and harming their bottom line.

As food safety continues its digital transformation, audits will rely more and more on digital solutions. Growers have the opportunity to transition to digital compliance documentation in order to keep up with more frequent (and often partially-remote) audits. They can be ahead of the curve by going digital now, as regulatory bodies have started requiring that audit documentation be submitted digitally, a requirement which will eventually reach growers.

Paper Compliance Documentation Will Be Phased Out

Preparing for a food safety audit begins long before the audit date is set. The system that a grower uses to document their food safety has a major influence on the food safety culture at their company. If the system is frustrating for employees it can be a challenge to even keep up with minimum requirements.

When paper forms need to be driven from the field to the office, photocopied, and stored in binders, it’s easy for a missed report or an error to be overlooked. When preparing for an audit, growers need to spend even more time gathering the right paperwork. Even if all reports were filled out correctly, it may be difficult to locate the right reports. Paper systems are challenging for the auditor as well, requiring more time spent on site ensuring the right reports are located.

If a system is easy to use, every level of an organization will be more likely to adopt. If crew leaders in the field feel comfortable filling out digital forms, they can complete the reports more accurately. If office staff can log in and check reports any time, they can catch errors sooner.

How To Prepare Using Food Safety Audit Software

A good digital compliance platform helps a grower prepare for audits by making it easier than ever to follow their food safety plan throughout the year.

With digital compliance documentation, growers track all the reports they would traditionally track on paper with a set of digital checklists instead. If a grower uses HeavyConnect, they have access to up-to-date checklists for all major audit schemas. Forms are automatically geo-tagged and time-stamped and can be stored with photos and notes. Reports sync in real-time and are stored securely in digital binders. An administrator can review the reports, document corrective actions, and sort through reports based on severity level. The platform can even be configured to send automatic notifications to the right people when a corrective action is needed.

When it’s time to conduct an internal audit or prepare for a third-party audit, all the grower needs to do is search for the right reports through their dashboard. They can be confident that they have the reporting they need and that errors have already been addressed. Conveniently, they can do this preparation from anywhere.

Auditors can receive the right reports quickly and conduct their initial review remotely. They may receive PDFs of reports or even be given a temporary log-in to the digital platform with special permissions to review the right documents.

Growers who use HeavyConnect receive specialized audit-readiness training during the onboarding process. Our industry-leading Customer Success team teaches growers how to prepare for audits confidently with HeavyConnect so they can reduce the time and worry that usually go into audit preparation.

Growers Save Time and Money

The most obvious benefit of using a software platform to store compliance reporting is the time savings. But there are other benefits to consider, too.

Time Savings: Preparation time is drastically reduced when a grower takes paper out of the equation. Growers who use HeavyConnect report around 50% time savings compared to using paper-based systems. Auditors can receive all documentation in advance and review it from their own office. Onsite time can be spent well for both parties, allowing time to walk through the fields or facility.

Financial Savings: Between spending less time filling out reports throughout the year and driving paperwork to and from a central office, less time preparing for audits, and money saved on paper itself (which can exceed $100K dollars a year for large operations), growers benefit financially from a digital platform. Plus, they lower their risk of failing an audit, which could lead to lost contracts or buyer relationships.

Year-Round Food Safety Culture: Audits are an important way to support and guarantee safe food production practices. Audits are often seen as a necessary evil, but they earn that reputation because they often cause extra burden to both parties. With a digital food safety platform in place, audits affirm that a grower is conforming to a certain schema, highlight areas that are lacking or need extra attention, and give the grower the chance to improve their day-to-day practices. Growers can be confident in their food safety practices throughout the year, and buyers can know that their growers are compliant.

The Future of Food Safety Audits

In 2020, food safety audits, like many other processes in the agriculture industry, have gone even more remote. In a Forbes interview about the future of food safety audits, Rebecca Anderson with GLOBALG.A.P. said the agriculture industry is ready to move towards remote-first audits. “This confidence is shared by the vast majority of stakeholders including our organization, Certification Bodies and their auditors, producers and importantly, the companies buying produce and other crops from the farmers undergoing remote audits.”

It’s time for every grower and facility to consider adopting a digital food safety documentation platform to prepare for the transition to digital and remote-first audits.

The HeavyConnect platform is designed with food safety audits in mind. If you are a grower or facility considering a transition away from paper documentation, set up a free demo of HeavyConnect’s easy-to-use digital compliance platform, or contact us with any questions at (833) 722-5727.

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