In connection with the prevailing pandemic, many standards have been introduced for remote food control. An important question to ask yourself is how remote food audits work. As the food market itself sees the future of remote controls and whether Global GAP Remote certification will become a standard.
Thanks to the availability of materials on the foodfakty.pl portal, we can share some of the answers to the questions asked above.
During the United Fresh Produce Association webinar, it was found that a coronavirus pandemic would likely accelerate the use of remote verification and food safety audits.
Although many manufacturers, buyers, suppliers, and fresh product certification companies have already explored various options for remote audits and other alternatives to on-site visits, the challenges of COVID-19 have helped accelerate these options. According to many, the trend will continue after the pandemic begins to subside.
According to a survey conducted during the webinar, three-quarters (75%) of the participants in the event - including representatives of United Fresh, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA), Wegmans, Dole and Global GAP - said that in their opinion post-pandemic audits would continue to be conducted mainly on site, but will include more and more parts that are carried out remotely.
Seven percent of participants said they expected the on-site audits to be completely replaced by remote audits, and only 15 percent predicted that there would be no lasting change in the annual on-site audits after the pandemic.
The future of audits
"In the future, we will look at things a lot differently," said panelist Sharan Lanini, director of food safety at Pacific International Marketing, who is also a member of the executive committee of California's LGMA.
Speakers at the meeting said that the pandemic is already causing companies to adapt the way verification is done, introducing new technologies as a way to reduce direct interpersonal interaction and avoid delays in audit schedules.
New practices, however, differ significantly depending on the manufacturing industry, suggested by the speakers at the webinar.
The California company LGMA represents 98% of producers of green leafy products in the state of California and requires producers to comply with more stringent requirements than other producers, with LGMA members subject to government control and additional audits.
Alternative auditing methods are still being sought and more than a year ago, the possibilities of conducting field audits using Google cameras or glasses have been explored.
With the development of a pandemic in the US, the organization is focusing on issues related to document review and control through remote access.
"We started with the GoToMeeting-type format, which started in April," Lanini said.
Tests have also started on a new system developed by Western Growers and I-Foods, which provides a dedicated document sharing platform where companies can send all the documentation needed for remote document review.
The system is very intuitive, saves a lot of time and effort and is completely secure because it is managed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
"In my opinion, this is a way forward", said Lanini. "Regardless of COVID, we will conduct remote audits requiring the submission of relevant online documents, because it is an easy way to eliminate unnecessary paper documentation and make the process much faster than managing paper documents. It will save everyone time and make it happen more effective ".
Global GAP - details of the remote standard verification
Rebecca Anderson, Key Technical Customer Manager at Global GAP, presented how Global GAP, which sets voluntary certification standards for agricultural products around the world, is approaching remote verification of food safety during a pandemic.
"We are in a difficult situation because all owners of certification programs are subject to GFSI, so if GFSI does not allow remote auditing, we must take parallel action," Anderson added. "So we decided to maintain our GFSI standard, but also to run our own standard in parallel to GFSI to enable remote operation."
As a result, the group introduced Global GAP Remote - a remote verification option, which was the subject of public consultation last week and will be presented in the interim final document.
"We split the verification into high, medium and low risk categories," Anderson explained.
Wegmans tests a remote audit, informs about minimal interference associated with a pandemic
Retailers who spoke at the meeting also suggested that they become more open to accepting audits that contain at least some virtual element.
"We were quite open," said Steve Strub, food safety manager at Wegmans Food Markets, who described how Wegmans handles audits during a pandemic.
Wegmans runs his own organic farm and has already passed a remote audit by the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA).
The remote audit lasted about one hour, during which the auditor allowed the farm management to film everything he asked for by phone. The farm also provided all necessary documentation in advance, so "we had it all well checked out before we arrived at the online meeting," said Strub.
"The NOFA website has a nice overview of everything they need for such an audit to take place," added Strub. "We found everything went surprisingly well and we were pleased with the results."
In addition, however, despite the pandemic, Wegmans also managed to approach traditional audits, "said Strub.
Wegmans, has about 200 local breeders on the East Coast and 80% to 85% of them apply to the USDA harmonized GAP during the audit.
"We've contacted six of the seven states we do business with and they are currently conducting audits. Several of them have been suspended - I know that New Jersey has been suspended for some time, New York has been suspended for some time - but since yesterday everyone could go out and do farm audits now, "said Strub.
In Massachusetts, which has its own audit program, audits are also expected to go ahead despite a slight delay.
In turn, for domestic suppliers, Wegmans has an audit monitoring system and draws up a report every month, specifying which audits should be carried out. At the beginning of May there are about 200 overdue audits, which according to Struba is not a lot, considering all the farms with which the supermarket chain cooperates.
Of these, only one delay associated with COVID-19 affected a berry supplier in Chile, where pandemic restrictions made it difficult for the grower to contact the certification body.
Many US audits in the northeast of the country will be conducted during the summer months.
Wegmans is open to cooperation with suppliers and ready to accept remote auditing options. The supermarket chain is also beginning to look for electronic solutions that will allow you to collect in one place documents regarding the goods with which it cooperates. "We think it will be a solution that we will also be using in the near future," said Strub.
Dole is still focusing on pre-audit document review
Felice Arboisiere, director of Dole Fresh Vegetables, presented a similar perspective on how the company handles audits during a pandemic.
"Dole has the advantage of having representatives in all countries where it develops," said Arboisiere. "We have teams to ensure food safety and quality in all these countries and they are in constant contact with the American team and consistently report what is happening."
Currently, the teams are still only conducting internal audits because the implemented procedures do not allow external guests to arrive due to pandemic restrictions.
Audits are carried out taking appropriate precautions, including the use of masks, maintaining a safe distance and other preventive measures. Currently, the company carries out audits on ranches, including in the Salinas Valley in California, as well as GFSI audits and ecological certification audits. There have been no compliance drops so far, she noted.
Dole has been conducting many document reviews for a long time before the actual audit, so that auditors can spend more time both in the field and at processing plants, which will likely be continued in the future.
Regarding the future of audits, Arboisiere agreed that the pandemic has accelerated the use of remote verification technology and will likely continue after the crisis.