Going into 2017, the FSMA will be essential and top of mind for all food quality assurance specialists.

In manufacturing of any kind, quality assurance is essential. But when it comes to food manufacturing facilities, quality assurance is about much more than maintaining consistent shapes or colors – without a good quality assurance process in place, consumers are put at risk.

As a food quality assurance professional, it is your job to continuously assess the quality assurance practices of your facility. Performing regular food safety audits is an important part of this assessment process.

Working from a checklist is by far the best way to keep track of the pieces of facility equipment and the different facility practices that you need to review. However, if you are tasked with creating a food safety audit checklist for the first time, it can be difficult to know where to start. Following are a few tips for creating a food safety audit checklist that will work for you and keep consumers both happy and safe.

Determine Audit Categories

Start with deciding how you want to break up your facility for the purpose of your audits. There is no right or wrong way to do this, just be sure to choose a structure that makes sense for your internal organization and process. You may choose to divide your checklist into departments, into different areas of regulation, or into different functions. For instance, you may have a category for ingredient storage and another for facility cleaning protocol. Also keep in mind that, as with any type of structure like this, it may take more than one try to get it right.

Assess Compliance Within Each Category

Once you have decided the different categories for your checklist, start building out a picture of what each category looks like in terms of food quality assurance compliance. At this point, it is not important that you drill down into the specific items on the check list. Rather, look at a big picture view of, for instance, one department and start to list those protocol, processes, and regulations to which the specific department is subject.

Divide Categories into Discrete Items

Once you have a complete list of regulations for each section of your checklist, you can start creating the specific items you need to evaluate for each food safety audit. Take the regulations that you uncovered in the previous step and divide them into assessable statements. For example, if you decided to create a machinery maintenance category and then determined that your machinery is subject to specific allergy tests, you can list out those tests as different boxes on your checklist. Go through each category until your list addresses ever relevant compliance issue.

Review Checklist with Department Heads

Once you have created your checklist, you are not done. Safe quality food does not come from the efforts of one person alone, so it is important you have approval and buy-in from every department that you will evaluate in your audit. Department heads may have additions, subtractions, or changes that you need to incorporate in order for your checklist to work well.

Revise List Based on Feedback, Then Test

Take the feedback you get from other departments and incorporate it into the working version of your checklist. Once you have incorporated all those changes, you can start using your checklist and really get a good idea as to whether it works as intended. As you start to use it, you will likely find some things you missed and some items you do not need, so be sure to revise as required by your internal processes and by any changes to regulations.

Remember, your safety audit checklist should be a living document. Though you want to be as thorough as possible from the beginning, you must also be open to new regulation and new issues that may arise as you begin to conduct regular audits.