Use of Remote Audits During the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives, including the way audits are conducted. Remote audits and blended remote audits are now a reality due to social distancing requirements and attempts to keep auditors and plant staff safe. Factors that affect remote audits include advantages such as less time spent onsite by auditors, utilizing electronic systems to their full potential, and limiting financial cost due to travel. Disadvantages include elements such as weak internet connectivity, use of platforms to share information and maintaining secured lines to ensure data breaches do not occur.
Determining whether a site is capable of conducting a remote audit is a key factor during the initiation and set up process. A site must have internet connectivity capable of keeping a steady connection. Due to many sites being in rural areas, this is a limiting factor some sites may face. During the set-up process, a technical test is completed between the auditor and the site to ensure the site is capable of completing a remote audit or remote portion of an audit. This technical test is completed approximately 14 days prior to the audit start date. The test includes determining which online meeting platform: Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, etc; will be used during the remote audit. After determining which platform will be used, a test of that platform is completed to ensure the site has an adequate number of personnel involved with the audit. Personnel may include computer driver, program/data retriever, technical support, knowledge of screen sharing, and ability to use the platform to its fullest potential for the remote audit. During the technical test, the dates of record review are communicated so that the site has time to scan and upload records to their computers for ease of record review and to ensure audit objectives are attained. Through this process it has been found that several sites have moved to electronic records and away from hard copies.
Audits have expected durations based on several factors such as facility size, number of HACCP/Food Safety Plans, number of employees, and whether a facility is high care or high risk. During a remote blended audit, the remote portion can be half of the expected duration. For example, if the expected duration is 20 hours, up to 10 hours can be spent remotely. The onsite portion will be completed with 28 days of the completion of the remote portion of the audit.
The end of the audit is handled essentially the same as normal onsite audits. A closing meeting is held, non-conformities are discussed, and post-audit activities are outlined with the site.
In conclusion, remote audits are growing within the industry due to COVID-19, sites not allowing visitors within the facility, less time auditors spend in the facility, and overall ease of completion if all deciding factors are adequate and the audit objectives can be achieved.