Have requirements for physical distancing driven halal audits online?
Asma Ahad, the director of halal market development for the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA), clarifies that the certifier conducts virtual audits on a case-by-case basis.
Speaking during a webinar on June 1 hosted by Salaam Gateway, Ahad said IFANCA has seen “minimal or delayed disruptions” to its work due to the pandemic but that it’s “learning in real time”.
“There have been instances where we are able to do our audits virtually, we’re actually just developing this technique,” said Ahad.
IFANCA’s first priority is to ensure the safety of its employees, she said. These include halal auditors. IFANCA is headquartered in Chicago, USA, and has operations in around 70 countries.
“One of the things we’ve noticed about our global team is that they’re the ones that have their ear to the ground so they understand what needs to happen geographically with where they’re at because COVID-19 might be an emergency in one place or might be more severe in one place than another,” said Ahad.
“We’ve been troubleshooting ahead of time and really understanding what needs to happen to not disrupt our work because when we are providing certification it impacts the availability of essential ingredients and products to places that need to feed their population,” she added.
If and when halal audits cannot be done in person during the pandemic, Ahad said IFANCA is prioritizing safety first.
“[If] our auditors absolutely have to go out to the field, what is the right incubation time, what is the right time that the person has to be quarantined, those are the things that we’re troubleshooting.”
She clarified when IFANCA would deem it safe to conduct a virtual audit, which includes how familiar it is with a certain company and its products and processes.
“If it’s a very detailed audit like in the pharmaceutical industry where we’re looking at how they manufacture a certain particular ingredient that takes a lot of steps as well as understanding situations of cross-contamination it’ll be difficult to do a virtual audit,” she said.
This is especially so when the audit includes ingredients or products that the certifier considers a concern.
However, virtual audits could be conducted on a case-by-case and customized basis under certain conditions, one of which is if all aspects involved are halal-certified, including from ingredients to packaging.
“That facilitates the ability to do a virtual audit because you have all the compliance paperwork ahead of time,” said Asma.