How to pass a customer audit

By Linda Jackson on 01 February 2017

You are a supplier to retail…or you are intending on becoming one. You need survival tips for the audit that is looming. Well here we go!


Tip 1: Don’t leave it to the last minute

Most suppliers completely underestimate the time…and money it will take to get ready for their first retail audit. This is NOT a walk in the park. The requirements can be onerous and you will need time for preparation. You will also need to prove you have actually been using the system so you need some time to build up records. You should aim for at least 3 months of records as a track record.


Tip 2: Know which requirements to comply with

Make sure you get the EXACT requirements you need to comply with from your customer. The retailers do differ on their minimum requirements for the first audit so make sure you understand what you need.

Small suppliers are usually given the opportunity to build their food safety management system incrementally. You may be able to use a progression from an entry level GMP (good manufacturing practices) audit to a Genesis audit (aptly named from “in the beginning”).

View The Genesis Audit

The Consumer Goods Council Food Safety initiative was designed to align the retail food safety audit requirements. This protocol would be the entry level requirement for most of the retailers. You start with the Basic level of requirements in the first year, your second year you move to intermediate and from there on you should be aiming for certification to FSSC 22000 or a GFSI benchmarked standard.

View The CGCSA Website

(Please note the website is going through a revamp so if you need the documents please contact us)


You might even be able to cover more than one retailers’ requirements in the same audit.

View The FSA Audit


This is the THEORY – make sure you establish exactly what your customer wants before you spend any money on an audit.


Tip 3: Make sure you understand the requirements

You have to demonstrate that you have a system in place to ensure your products are consistently safe for the consumer. This is NOT only an inspection of your facility.

Look at the photos below to understand the difference between an inspection and an audit.

An inspection would only highlight physical shortcomings as in Photo 1. On the second inspection we see corrective action was taken and improvements were made. Photo 3 shows what an audit would typically call for in addition to having the right facilities available on the day of the audit. The audit looks at the programmes you have in place to ensure the facilities STAY the way they are on the day of the audit. The audit seeks to establish that you can sustain the food safety system. This is why we look at records to confirm your track record is sound. This is also the reason we cannot do an audit before you have implemented your system and let it run for a few months.

Therefore you are expected to understand the requirements and understand the type of control system you will need to have in place to ensure the system is implemented on a day to day basis. Otherwise we could only conclude you make safe food on the day of the audit!


Tip 4: Choose your service providers carefully

There are things you cannot do yourself like pest control, supply of chemicals and protective clothing. Please make sure you use companies that have experience and contactable references in the food industry. Shop around but always check that they can support your food safety system. They should be able to provide you with information about their products and services. You are ALWAYS responsible even if they work on your site which means you must know what they are supposed to do and make sure they are doing it.


Tip 5: Understand what makes your product safe

You will need to show that your food safety system addresses the hazards that are likely to occur in your process, using your ingredients and in your facility. So, what can go wrong and what measures have you put in place to ensure these things don’t happen. Is your product conducive to the growth of pathogenic micro-organisms that can cause illness? What do you do to prevent or control this? Could your equipment cause contamination with metal or oil? What are you doing to control this? These are the questions the auditor is going to ask you. Do you know the answers? By the way: It’s not good enough to say we haven’t killed anyone or we don’t get complaints. You need to demonstrate your practice approach in relation to the hazards you have to deal with.

And to be clear: a hazard is something in your food product that can cause harm to the consumer whether this is illness, death or physical damage.


There are obviously consultants out these that can assist you. If you don’t know the answers rather ask for help but remember it is your system and so the consultant cannot (and will not be allowed to) answer questions on the day of the audit.


Good luck!


We would love you to share any other tips you think you help lessen the pain. Please comment below!