Keeping fruit, vegetables, growers and the public safe with remote audits for NZGAP certification

05 May 2020

New Zealand Good Agricultural Practice (NZGAP) has joined the rest of New Zealand in the move contactless interaction. 

Working closely with the AsureQuality and SGS auditors, NZGAP has been able to keep growers audited during the COVID-19 lockdown and ongoing health and safety restrictions.

Papakura based tomato grower, Anthony Tringham was the first grower to be remotely audited. He said that the process went incredibly smoothly.

“The auditor interview was quicker than a regular audit while covering all the necessary checks,” says Anthony. “What would typically be a three-hour face-to-face meeting, took less than an hour virtually.  Plus, in the context of COVID-19, there’s a massive reduction in risk by not having someone visit.

“It was the same work as a regular NZGAP audit, but much more efficient. When doing an audit, I have to compile records of spray diaries and the likes into a Word document anyway. Uploading all these documents to the filesharing platform rather than showing the auditor in person makes a lot of sense to me and could even be part of a future process.”

Aside from showing records, the integral parts of an NZGAP audit are the grower interview and checking the implementation of measures on-site. Jennifer Reaney, an AsureQuality auditor, says that she was able to do these checks in a virtual site tour via Zoom video meeting.

“The audit went well with no problems. I was able to look through Anthony’s chemical shed and packhouse and pick up on a few points to improve like replacing some faded signs.  Anthony was also able to show me some additional documentation that wasn’t uploaded yet.”

Before the audit, Anthony was sent a checklist with everything that needed to be audited. “I was able to review the documentation that he’d uploaded before the meeting,” Jennifer says. “When we had the Zoom meeting, it went faster than a regular visit. It was the same amount of work for me, but we were able to complete the meeting in under an hour.”

Since completing Anthony’s audit, Jennifer has completed others with similar success, working with growers via Zoom to resolve any issues while being flexible to individual circumstances.

“One grower, for example, knew their internet connection would be an issue for a video tour,” Jennifer says. “We were able to have a prior conversation about the checklist, and they were able to send in documentation so that I knew exactly what implementation measures I had to check, so the on-site visit could be as short as possible.”

With COVID-19 demanding change, we’re likely to see a whole range of innovations over the coming months. 

NZGAP and Food Safety Manager, Damien Farrelly is very pleased with how the remote audits have gone.

“Our team has worked really hard to get remote audits across the line, to continue the provision of NZGAP certification services, and to complement growers’ adoption of new health and safety measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19.

“We want to keep growers safe and ensure that peoples’ food is also safe.  Being able to complete audits remotely helps keep growers safe while ensuring high standards for New Zealand-grown fruit and vegetables are upheld.

“In recent years, we have seen significant progress with the adoption of technology to facilitate off-site document checks and remote video audits.  COVID-19 made it a top priority for us to launch this new service with AsureQuality and SGS. 

“I am very pleased the milestone of the ‘first-ever NZGAP remote audit’ has been achieved. Remote audits are a temporary measure during the COVID-19 emergency, but we will certainly be considering their long-term adoption.

“While technology has its part to play in improving certification and audit process efficiency, we are also mindful that not everyone has the technology, broadband or inclination.

“As a result, we are retaining existing manual processes for those who need them or want them, to ensure that NZGAP certification continues to be accessible to all growers and supply chain service providers.”