Food Safety

Documentation 101: Eight Steps to Mastering your Next Audit

The experts at Packers Sanitation Services, Inc. offer these tools and strategies for assisting your team with audit compliance.

By Steve Weiland, PSSI Corporate Microbiologist

Mastering the complexities of documentation is a challenge across the food industry. In fact, audit compliance is the number one sanitation concern on the minds of food processing plant managers, according to a recent survey commissioned by Packers Sanitation Services, Inc. (PSSI). Thankfully, a few tools and strategies may help make compliance a little less of a headache.

Try these eight steps:

  1. Remember Your ABCs Regardless of the record-keeping system used, the most important things to remember are: Be accurate, brief, and clear. Audit documentation is a crucial step in the compliance process, so accuracy is essential. Being brief and clear will save time and provide more accessible insights for reviewers.
  2. Think Digital Digital technology has changed the food industry’s approach to documentation. Video and electronic recordkeeping capabilities make possible real-time documentation. PSSI, the nation’s number one contract sanitation provider, has an electronic reporting system, where sanitors can fill out electronic documents during the sanitation shift. PSSI’s switch to digital reports allows for efficient, daily inspection and compliance with procedures. At audit time, an auditor can easily download documents and verify that standards are being met.
  3. Secure Your Process Another aspect of electronic documentation is the security capabilities gained with password and encryption protection. Biosecurity and food security measures are being scrutinized more and more, and encryption capabilities can prevent sensitive information from being misused.
  4. Explore Templates Documentation time can be saved by using online templates.  Documents on food safety, HACCP, risk assessment and quality assurance can be great starting points for creating personalized reports. It’s good to review these packages to see if they are worth the expenditure of time and money. And, make sure templates can be tailored to your specific production and sanitation operation needs.
  5. Utilize Experts Sometimes, it can be valuable to collaborate with an experienced consulting firm or documentation expert. This can allow for outside input and documentation that’s personalized for specific aspects of your business.
  6. Be Specific The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently investigated many cases of mislabeled or undeclared allergens, some leading to product recalls. These incidents seem to be reported with an alarming frequency and can be costly and damaging to your company’s reputation. Adding specific allergen-containing ingredients to a production line requires a comprehensive effort to accurately and completely address all production documents, label declarations, cleaning procedures and quality assurance programs. To avoid investigation and recall, your company needs to have specific allergen controls, and the supporting documentation in place.
  7. Reveal Traceability One of the most important aspects of an audit is being able to trace all documents and forms back to each phase of food production. Traceability and proof must be part of a company’s food safety plan and associated documentation.
  8. Practice Makes Perfect To evaluate the effectiveness of your record management system, conduct an internal “mock” recall exercise. Find out how easy or difficult it is to retrieve a document at any step and demonstrate preventative controls. This will identify any gaps in your system. Without full document traceability and security, your business may be at risk.

Documentation doesn’t need to be as difficult as it seems. The experts at PSSI help manage sanitation compliance so that each step is made easier come audit-time.

Editor’s Note: This post was sponsored by PSSI. To learn how PSSI can help you manage your company’s sanitation program for audit-readiness, visit