IFS Blog

The added value of unannounced audits

Food retailers and suppliers increasingly ask their suppliers for unannounced audits. The GFSI has included this option in their benchmarking requirements, so that every GFSI recognized standard has to offer this option. IFS introduced the unannounced audits in version 6.0 of the IFS Food Standard in 2016. We know now, that this option has some real advantages for audited production sites.

No difference in scoring between announced and unannounced audits
We experienced reluctance to adopt the unannounced audits in the food industry at first. People were skeptical and afraid that their audit results may suffer. Questions like am I still able to obtain my IFS Certificate at higher level when the auditor comes without warning, arose. From our experience at IFS we can say today that there's really no need to worry. According to internal evaluations the audit results mostly stay the same, regardless if the audit was performed announced or unannounced. 

Unannounced audits increase credibility
On the other hand, auditors performing regular announced audits told us that in some cases it was very obvious that the sites were especially "prepared" just before they came. Consequently, they had doubts, that the principles of the IFS were actually adhered to in day-to-day business in these places. Having this in mind, we can say that, unannounced audits actually have more added value than the regular ones. They demonstrate compliance and provide the confidence to the stakeholders that these manufacturing sites are operating on the same safety level and comply with the IFS Requirements every day. 

A vivid food safety culture pays off
To be successful in an unannounced audit, it is necessary to involve both management and everyone on the work floor. Companies getting support, as well as the resources from the management and also train their personnel regularly, have no need to worry about an auditor coming into the production facility without prior notice. Their employees usually are able to answer any questions an auditor may have. We also see that in those companies the employees on the work floor are more committed to the goal of producing safe products. They also take more responsibility and identify themselves with the company and its products. As a result, fewer problems occur, which also has a positive effect on the complaint rate. Last but not least, working this way can increase the motivation of everyone involved. Everyone can be very proud of themselves when their company passes the IFS Audit and be more motivated to keep up that level. At the end of the day a vivid food safety culture pays off for the company in more than one way. 

Better prepared for state food inspections
Having implemented a sound food safety culture in which the manufacturing practices are performed in such a way, that an auditor can come for an audit every day also means that the company is well prepared for official state inspections. Also this aspect adds value to the unannounced audit scheme. 

IFS now offers two options for unannounced audits
Having seen the advantages of unannounced audits, let's have a closer look at the possibilities IFS offers in this respect. As from this year IFS certified companies have two options: either do an unannounced IFS Food audit or a regular (announced) Food Audit supplemented by an unannounced Food Safety Check. This latter option is especially interesting to small and medium sized companies who may not always be able to provide sufficient personnel capacity for a period of 16 weeks in which unannounced food audits can take place, but still are requested to undergo an unannounced assessment. The combination of a regular audit and a Food Safety Check are fully equivalent to an unannounced audit. Read more about this programme here.

Our Tips, Tricks and Tools to prepare for unannounced audits
Finally, we would like to give you some tips, tricks and tools that can help you pass an unannounced audit.

  1. Know your Standard
    You should know the requirements of the IFS Standard you will be audited against as well as their intentions. It is good to know and to realize that the philosophy of IFS is to support the continuous improvement of food safety and quality management of certified companies. In order to achieve that we supply you with the Standard document issued in several languages. We also have guidelines on specific topics such as Food Fraud, Foreign Body Management or Food Defense you can consult. Go to the Standards Page on this website and find all relevant documents to each Standard.

  2. Train yourself and your employees regularly
    Many producers work with one quality assurance manager taking care of HACCP, food safety, compliance etc. As described above it does make sense to train both people on the work floor and managers of different production areas. They should know how the system works, what is expected of them and why things need to be handled in a certain way. Also it helps when more people know where to find documentations and are familiar with procedures and policies. The IFS Academy provides E-Learning Courses, Webinars and offers relevant industry trainings. For these trainings IFS works with training providers in many different countries, offering courses in the respective country languages. Also there are some tutorials on the IFS You Tube Channel.

  3. Be audit ready every day
    Especially when you are in an unannounced audit scheme you should operate in a way, that an auditor can come for an audit every day. You can do this by doing internal audits or performing regular process checks. The IFS Audit Manager App can support these actions. This app not only supports internal audits but is designed in such a way, that you can make notes or take photos from any safety issues you encounter when walking through the production sites as well. You can send these findings directly to the colleague responsible for that issue, ask him or her to take care of it and check the follow-up. To be prepared for auditor questions on food fraud and risk management it is important to be up to date on relevant issues in your supply chain. The IFS Trend Risk Monitor enables you to effectively scan the market regarding possible risks for the product scopes of your specific interest. This tool is exclusively available for all users of the IFS Database.

  4. Get professional guidance
    Doing internal audits is one way of being prepared for unannounced audits. You can also choose to work with IFS Recognized Consultants who can advise you on implementing food safety and quality management processes that are in line with the IFS Standard requirements and comply with your specific business needs.

  5. Just ask us
    IFS has regional offices in several countries around the world. We organize IFS Focus Days and are present at numerous fairs, congresses and events. Do not hesitate to just ask us directly at one of these occasions or by simply using the contact form. 

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