How to Prepare for… the Retailer Audit Inspection

If you are a food manufacturer and supply products to the retail market, you will have the pleasure of experiencing the equivalent of an Ofsted inspection to your premises by the retailer you supply.

The Retailer Audit Inspection is an event that can often occur unannounced and will usually take place between March and November over 2-3 days. The purpose of the audit is to check you are complying to the retailer’s code of practice; it’s about food safety and ensuring you are manufacturing to a high standard. A retailer will usually schedule in one visit per year but if you supply numerous retailers, you could have a busy calendar of audit visits.

It’s normal and understandable that stress levels will increase during these visits. Continuous questioning, and scrutinized processes will potentially identify areas which are not to standard and deemed a ‘Non-Conformance’. It highlights where things not being done in accordance to the criteria’s outlined in retailer Audit code or that of the BRC (British Retailers Consortium).

Within the food industry it’s imperative to work to a high standard from the onset. I’ve worked with organisations where the moto “Audit ready at all times” underpinned our approach to systems and work practices whichever team you are part of. For example, from an engineer’s perspective they were focused on documentation always being up to date and the procedures to hand back works was in line, all tool boxes were inventoried and clear of swarf, greases were food safe and H3 safety checks on services were carried out daily and updated.

It’s important each team regular checks and practises for an audit taking place. It’s preparing for the ‘when’ scenario, not ‘if’. The audits will happen, and they will have consequences. Practice, Practice, Practice.

Following the initial meeting, a close out meeting will be scheduled. If there are areas to improve on the company and Auditor (depending on the severity of the Non-Conformance) agree a close out date which can be from 1 week to 3 months from the open meeting. Once evidence is provided that the issue(s) have been rectified, the senior management team have a responsibility to ensure that their teams are carrying out the processes to the book and regularly checking and updating the processes in relation to the retailer’s code of practice.

My top three takeaways to help you prepare for your Retail Audit Inspection:

  • Be prepared: Have an A-Z system so that evidence can be demonstrated instantaneously when asked and all team members are familiar with the process and procedure of the visit
  • Do not try to fluff the Auditor with BS as they are switched on. Be confident, clear and avoid unnecessary waffle or detail. Stick to the question asked.
  • Relax and reassure your team that you are all in this together. Regardless of the outcome praise your team’s efforts and use the experience to grow and learn.
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