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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, February/March 2005

Auditing Advancements

Greater Efficiency and Real-Time Decision Support

by Mark Beatty

Surviving in the world of food business takes intelligence, planning, attention to detail and, according to many industry leaders, the latest auditing technology. Mike Dunn, zone director for quality assurance and food safety at Sodexho Corp. (Houston, Texas), says auditing software has allowed the food and facilities management services company to proactively manage its auditing system and substantially increase efficiency and accuracy.

“Our software gives us a consistency you just cannot achieve with books and paper,” Dunn adds.

Audits play an ever increasing critical role in ensuring processes and procedures in the food business operate correctly and safely. Yet these essential audits have consistently been problematic in terms of time, accuracy and efficiency.

As Dunn indicates, the availability of technology that automates the management of safety and quality assurance programs provides significant benefits to today’s food companies, including time savings, real-time reporting, improved data accuracy, corrective-action tracking, reliable validation and customizable data collection and management.

Today’s technology advancements permeate every aspect of the business world. And companies successful in the food industry are quickly recognizing the power technology gives them to gather information quickly, organize and report it instantly, and validate their processes and procedures to ensure accuracy, efficiency and success.

Sodexho is only one of many companies leaving paper-based and semi-automated auditing systems behind to fully utilize more comprehensive and analytical features gained from the latest technology developments. Although Sodexho had relied on paper audits to monitor food and physical safety in the past, the challenges of a technology-driven marketplace and the necessity of transferring information instantaneously made it critical for the company to implement a new system that would provide the speed and precision essential to the company’s objectives. After extensive research, Sodexho opted to move to an automated system.

“The data we collected was difficult to organize into a manageable review format,” Dunn explains. “This system has provided us with a mechanism to quickly and easily identify food safety and physical safety deficiencies and implement corrective action plans.”

The flexibility of the technology allows Sodexho to not only examine data from a company-wide perspective, but also view it by division and even subdivision. Reports are generated immediately after audit information is uploaded, then instantly e-mailed to key company officials.

“Recent technology has allowed us to create an audit summary report that is sent electronically to executive team members as soon as their division’s latest audits have been updated to the system,” Dunn notes.

And this increased efficiency has not cost the company a huge chunk of change either. “By assuming more administrative controls, our costs . . . have actually been reduced,” Dunn says.

“We have significantly increased our efficiency, thus increasing the annual number of compliance audits completed throughout our company,” he adds. “More completed audits allowed us to raise the bar on our “satisfactory” or “passing” scores, which resulted in decreased risks for the company. Automatically generated customized reports provide Sodexho with immediate knowledge, key insights, and decision-making power that was simply not possible with a manual system.”

Other food companies echo Dunn’s sentiments. Tyson Foods Inc. (Springdale, Ark.), one of the world’s largest processors and marketers of chicken, beef and pork, has a comprehensive auditing program that calls for its safety department officials to perform nearly 700 extensive audits every year, each taking three to five days to complete.

Once an audit was complete, it took up to three months for the audit findings to be organized, interpreted and communicated, says Debbie Stanley, Tyson’s safety administrator.

Tyson faced the huge task of managing this mountain-load of audit information, as well as tracking much-needed corrective actions. “We were not successful,” Stanley admits. “It is difficult to manage the number of audits we do and effectively perform the required follow up afterwards.”

The solution, ultimately, was to forego the paper-management system and embrace the present. With automated auditing and real-time reports, Tyson auditors now gather data and enter it on handheld computers on site. Then, within moments of completing an audit, audit findings are uploaded, reports are generated and sent out, and the audit is complete. “Now when an auditor leaves the plant, everything is done,” says Stanley. “Everyone likes that a lot.”

General Mills, one of the largest food companies in the United States, reports similar time savings. And equally important, with products and brands sold in more than 100 countries around the world, the company discovered a centralized, Web-based reporting system that is easily accessed by all of its international offices. And with a closed-loop approach to quality assurance, General Mills collects more critical business data in real time, with far greater accuracy, dramatically enhancing its ability to quickly identify potential problems and make essential adjustments.

JohnsonDiversy Inc. (Sturtevant Wis.) faced numerous challenges involved with its approach of paper auditing as well. With operations in more than 60 countries and over 14,000 employees worldwide, the company is a leading global provider of cleaning hygiene solutions to the institutional and industrial marketplace. Audits performed by its trained auditors were taking weeks to complete, so company officials welcomed the chance to develop a multi-language, customized, automated audit management system. Although instantaneous reports are one of the main benefits the company has enjoyed, officials are also happy to report that troublesome data errors have disappeared.

“Historically, we used paper to perform audits,” notes Suzanne Schwartz, IS analyst for JohnsonDiversey. “Audit results were then mailed in to headquarters. Data entry personnel would then transfer information to the computer, and reports were generated. Errors were often made due to the double-entry that took place with auditors and data entry clerks. Data errors are virtually eliminated with the new technology,” says Schwartz.

Big players are not the only ones taking advantage of this new automated auditing and validation approach. Smaller companies enjoy similar benefits when they make the move to automated software.

The Holland comprises three successful and growing restaurant brands based in the Northwest. To ensure health and safety compliance, each restaurant is regularly audited, and a comprehensive 12-page auditing report is filled out. However, “once the report was completed,” says Debe Nagy-Nero, director of Food Safety, “it was filed away. Making use of the audit information was primarily done by recalling critical issues from memory.”

With the growing popularity of its restaurants, The Holland needed a way to handle, record, track and access critical information as it planned for growth. Automation was the answer. “The biggest single benefit from implementing [this] software can be described in one word: Efficiency,” Nagy-Nero says. “After our audits are performed and uploaded . . . , all our information is available. Now, at any time, we can pull up noncompliant issues. We instantly know where restaurants need to improve and can quickly provide the necessary employee training.” In addition, Nagy-Nero points out, the software has made analytical projects, such as gathering information to identify trends, as easy as a couple clicks of the mouse.

As more and more food companies move to automated auditing, selecting software that integrates with other companies may become critical. In fact, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) recently jumped on the auditing technology bandwagon. FMI’s Safe Quality Food (SQF) program will now provide consumers and retailers with an extra measure of protection.

“We have the audit content,” says Paul Ryan, executive director of the SQF program. “With [this] technology, we have the ability to more accurately, efficiently and quickly communicate, analyze and manage audit results. [This] technology will enable SQF auditors to reach the highest performance level.”

The technology replaces paper-and-pencil audits with data gathered by handheld computers that upload data to a secure database. FMI then has instant access to real-time data, greater analysis and the capability to quickly identify trends in supplier food safety and quality performance. The software is also equipped to track in detail corrective actions taken by suppliers to solve food safety problems or upgrade quality.

In addition, FMI is encouraging its independent certification bodies to adopt the use of the same software, a move that could mean the entire industry might soon be communicating via this streamlined, accurate and efficient technology.

Key to making the transition effective is the selection of software that can be customized to your unique auditing processes and reporting needs. After all, you know your business best. It only makes sense to choose software that can be easily integrated into current processes and procedures, making it unnecessary to revamp existing auditing systems. –FQ

Mark Beatty is marketing communications manager for Steton (St. George, Utah). He can be reached at 453-656-5655, ext 4107 or mark.beatty@steton.com.

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