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The Future of Remote Audits
in International Food Safety



In the wake of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, the world faced numerous challenges, particularly in maintaining the safety and integrity of international food trade. To adapt to the situation, remote audits emerged as a viable solution, allowing food safety inspections to continue despite severe disruptions. But what role will remote audits play in the future of food safety? In this article, we explore the findings of a comprehensive report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that delves into the costs, benefits, and effectiveness of remote audits for international food safety.

Benefits of Remote Audits

The OECD report revealed several key benefits associated with remote audits:

  • Lower Travel Expenses: Traditional on-site audits often require significant travel expenses for auditors and inspectors. Remote audits reduce these costs substantially, enabling businesses to allocate resources more efficiently.
  • Reduced Emissions Footprints: With less travel involved, remote audits contribute to lower greenhouse gas emissions. This environmental benefit aligns with global efforts to promote sustainability and combat climate change.
  • Flexible Use of Time: Remote audits allow greater flexibility in scheduling and conducting inspections. Both auditors and auditees can better manage their time, leading to increased productivity and convenience.
  • Training and Involvement Opportunities: The remote format facilitates greater participation from staff members across different locations, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and enhanced knowledge transfer.

Drawbacks of Remote Audits

While remote audits offered notable advantages, the OECD report also identified some significant drawbacks:

  • Limitations in Gathering Audit Evidence: Physical inspections often provide more comprehensive and reliable evidence compared to remote assessments, especially in complex food safety systems.
  • Heavy Additional Burden of Preparation Time: Preparing for remote audits may require additional efforts, documentation, and communication to ensure all necessary information is available to auditors.
  • Internet Connectivity Issues: Depending on the location and infrastructure, unreliable internet connectivity can hinder the smooth execution of remote audits, potentially leading to delays or incomplete assessments.
  • Lack of Interpersonal Engagement: Remote audits lack the personal interaction between auditors and auditees, which can impact rapport-building and the exchange of insights and observations.

Effectiveness of Remote Audits

According to the OECD report, most stakeholders consider remote audits to be less effective than on-site audits, particularly for regulatory systems or physically auditing establishments. Despite the benefits, remote audits may not fully replicate the in-depth examination and verification possible through in-person assessments.

The Need for Harmonization and Guidelines

In light of the mixed outcomes, the report highlights the importance of harmonizing terminology in the realm of remote audits. Consistent definitions and practices will promote a clearer understanding of the approach and its limitations. Additionally, the report calls for the development of practical guidelines on how and when to conduct remote audits. Establishing standardized procedures will help maximize the benefits while mitigating the drawbacks.


Remote audits played a crucial role in ensuring the continuity of international food trade during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we move into the future, it is evident that remote audits offer several advantages, particularly in terms of cost savings, sustainability, and accessibility. However, stakeholders must carefully consider their appropriateness for specific situations and acknowledge the limitations they present compared to on-site inspections. By addressing the drawbacks and establishing standardized guidelines, remote audits can complement traditional approaches and enhance food safety practices worldwide.

For more details on the costs, benefits, and effectiveness of remote audits for international food safety, please download the full report from OECD’s website [click here].

Deuss, A. and S. Honey (2023), “Costs, benefits and effectiveness of remote audits for international food safety”, OECD Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Papers, No. 196, OECD Publishing, Paris.

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