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One of the few positive things to have come out of the COVID-19 crisis is that companies have begun to explore, perhaps more deeply than ever, the concept of effective remote and home working. This has both efficiency and environmental benefits in that time is not wasted on unnecessary travelling and commutes, and CO2 and airborne pollutants from travelling decrease.

Up until now, the concept of a food safety consultant conducting remote assessment of compliance to food safety and GFSI Standards has been a little alien. The accepted methodology has been to travel to a site, walk the line, observe practices and then to sit down, normally at the desk of the Quality Manager, to review and comment on risk assessment, procedure and work instructions. And of course, this has certainly been effective in terms of the outcome of such work. But can some, or all, of this work also be converted to remote working? The answer even 15 years ago, when decent videoconference and document sharing platforms were scarce, would have been “No”. But that side of IT changed and has facilitated effective remote working in most sectors.

A new era of remote assessment of compliance to food safety and GFSI Standards

Perhaps it is now time to embrace this new era of remote working. After all, habits often stick. And during this period of lock-down, as more and more organisations have to consider remote and home working, it is likely that it will become routine.

MQM Food safety auditors and consultants have for some years become adept at the concept of remote evaluation and inspections. This is currently something that we do, as contracted technical evaluators for HACCP International, the International Product Certification body, when, for instance, we remotely visit a distant food site, using WhatsApp video, to assess the condition of certified flooring materials, as part of a new evaluation or re-evaluation for continued certification. The documents such as installation guides, care guides and technical data sheets can, simultaneously be reviewed online, having been emailed or shared for instance as Google Docs.

It is with this in mind that MQM has generated standard operating procedures for the assessment and review of processes, conditions, systems, risk assessment, procedures and records, remotely. This is offered to support the sites own food safety and quality internal audit team, or to guide on the implementation of conditions, systems and procedures to, typically, the GFSI Food Safety Standards (such as BRC Global Standards, FSSC 22000), or similar schemes such as SALSA. Let’s give an example of how we can do this:-

Remote assessment checklist

  1. A checklist of information required up front (such as HACCP Plan, risk assessments, procedures, example records etc) is sent to customer. Customer prepares documents and this is sent to us electronically, using a secure system such as Dropbox or Google Docs.
  2. MQM Food safety consultant reviews the documents for comment on improvement against the appropriate standard (e.g. BRC Global Standards, FSSC 22000, SALSA etc). MQM Food safety consultant familiarises themselves with product type, product flow and processing (for instance from HACCP plan and supporting documents).
  3. Set up video assessment of factory, layout, lines and equipment on agreed date, using platform such as WhatsApp Video.
  4. Ask for still shots, or short video sequences if there are areas of concern
  5. MQM Food safety consultant reviews conditions and practices observed in the video assessment
  6. Prepare and share (e.g. through Dropbox or Google Documents) a full audit report of observed compliance and noncompliance against the appropriate standard (e.g. BRC Global Standards, FSSC 22000, SALSA etc). Recommend improvement actions.
  7. Agree follow up to determine effectiveness of customer actions taken

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