Before a company can prepare for a third-party audit, it has to understand the reason the review will take place and what kind of audit it will be, said Lorna Picado, food safety auditor, AIB International, Manhattan, KS, during the Tortilla Industry Association’s Technical Conference in Anaheim, CA. She outlined steps companies should take to prepare for a third-party audit, starting at procuring the criteria used for the audit six months out.

“Once you’ve got the criteria, you want to review it,” she noted. “You want to go through the requirements line by line. Also, you need to prepare and gather documentation.”

AIB generally schedules audits 90 days out, and Ms. Picado suggested not rescheduling because then it starts the timetable all over again. At three months before the audit, companies need to start detailing gaps in paperwork and updating procedures. Also at this time, employees should be made aware of the audit goals at meetings, and everyone needs to buy into these objectives.

At two months out, companies should communicate with the auditing firm about any criteria they still is not clear. Plants also should have identified some areas of opportunity and begin implementing corrective action plans at this time, Ms. Picado added.

One month before, the company needs to conduct an internal audit using the third-party audit criteria and review the results with all key players. Also, it must communicate the results with the workforce because they want to know how the process is going, she said.

Plant managers should arrange work schedules to coincide with audit needs at one week out, Ms. Picado noted. Also, the plant should have all records and programs that will be needed and a plan to place them in a central location to facilitate the audit flow.

A last mini audit should be held the day before the audit, and she also noted the importance of a good night’s sleep the night before. Ms. Picado also offered great advice for the actual audit, such as having a maintenance person along to open cabinets or electrical panels as needed. “You don’t want to keep an auditor waiting,” she added. “When waiting, we are auditing in much more detail and begin scrutinizing more.”

Also, she suggested taking notes while following the auditor and discussing findings when found to ensure a complete understanding.