Images courtesy of Clubhouse

We’ve spent significant portions of the pandemic having people talk at us. From PowerPoint-laden webinars to podcasts, everyone’s got something to share, but it can feel a lot like a one-way street. Webinars make us ask questions via a chat box, and even then, they might not get answered. Meanwhile podcasts could be recorded long before we’re able to put our ears on them. We could follow up with an email, but the chance for debate is long gone.

Maybe that’s why Clubhouse, a live, audio-based social media app, has become so popular since launching in March 2020.

Users, who have included Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, can setup virtual rooms and host a conversation. They can invite users to speak, and, depending on the settings, can let anyone join in to listen — or limit attendance to only people who follow the speakers. Folks who are just listening can raise a virtual hand to ask a question or offer a comment. There are also events, or scheduled chat rooms, and clubs, where like-minded folks can regularly converse. The conversations themselves are live and not recorded.

Bruce Perkin, principal consultant at Robust Food Solutions, who has worked at Pizza Hut, Yum! Restaurants International and Mars in a variety of roles, has taken part in a handful of food safety-based Clubhouse chats, which were started by Francine L. Shaw, CEO of Savvy Food Safety, and have included Matthew Regusci, senior food safety consultant at Fostering Compliance.

“It’s been just a really interesting conversation between three people that are passionate about their topic,” Perkin said. “We were asking each other questions, challenging each other and having fun.”

The app won’t be replacing other popular audio formats such as knowledge-dense audiobooks or story-driven podcasts. Those serve their own purposes.

“In a podcast, you’ve got no opportunity to quiz the speaker, whereas, here, you do,” Perkin said.

That’s where he sees Clubhouse’s potential. An audience member has the ability to ask questions or comment. For example, a listener can raise their hand, jump onto the virtual stage and ask a question about a topic being discussed. The question or comment could be so interesting, the presenters might keep that user on stage, adding them to the overall discussion.

“We’ll answer the question, and they can walk away a little bit wiser,” he said. “That can steer the conversation to what most interests the participants.”

So far, the app is far from a leading source for food safety tips, tricks and advice, because there just aren’t as many voices on the platform right now. But it is another place for people to connect on topics they’re interested in, offer in-the-moment insight and more.

“I’m doing this for fun right now,” Perkin said. “But I think down the track, there’s potential for it to be a device to create connections with people.”

Remote Controls

Remote audits could stick around. Here’s how to make them less stressful. By Jason Brill

© Seventyfour | Adobe Stock

During the pandemic, many parts of the food industry had to quickly pivot to keep the supply chain stocked with safe food. As things slowly get back to whatever the new normal will be, the food industry is learning which of those pivots, such as remote audits, might stick around.

Gwenda Jarrett, certification manager for AIB International, thinks hybrid audits — where documentation, policies, strategies and hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) plans are checked and interviews are conducted remotely, but an on-site inspection still occurs — could stick around.

We caught up with Jarrett to get her thoughts on what food manufacturers need to do to prepare for remote audits, and how to make them go a bit smoother.

Quality Assurance & Food Safety magazine: Why do you think remote audits will stick around?

Gwenda Jarrett: When you actually do a full on-site audit, you spend a lot of the time in the office reviewing documents and records on screens anyway. We have clients for whom we do head office audits as well as site audits. We can now have representatives from the head office in New York and Dallas and California all on the same call.

QA: Hybrid and fully remote audits are possible thanks to different information communication technologies (ICT) tools. What are some tips for manufacturers when it comes to ICTs?

GJ: There are certain questions that the food manufacturer has to ask of the auditor. “If I let you come into my factory with a recording device, (which we’re not usually allowed to use), what are you going to do?” Have the auditor sign a document that they’ll only livestream, not record. When we do the remote audit, you invite us. Don’t use the auditor’s Microsoft Teams, use yours. You don’t know who else will have access to it. Don’t send your HACCP plan or other key documents, unless you are confident that the data is secure. I’d rather you show me the plan.

QA: What are some best practices you’ve seen to make these audits go more smoothly?

GJ: I audited this little company in Ireland. What they’d done is, they did a pre-audit. They got headsets for all the auditees. They all had an extra smart device. They got an extra headset that they took around and gave it to the operator so I could speak to them. I could talk directly to the operator and not through somebody else. They’d done everything they could, so the auditee felt comfortable. And that’s what made it successful because this place was so noisy, and that’s why they had this headset. It was almost as good as being there.

Make sure you ask for breaks. I was shadowing an auditor recently in India, I was on Teams, and they just kept going. I said, “Stop. Look at them. The guy just walked in with tea and biscuits and you’re still talking. Give them five minutes.” Whether you’re on site or at a screen, the fatigue is still high.

I was doing an audit and they kept shutting the documents. I’d have to say, don’t shut it because I want to come back to it.” Keep things open if you can.

QA: What should food manufacturers keep in mind if they’re nervous about hybrid remote audits?

GJ: It feels stressful, but it’s not. Hybrid auditing works. It really does. You can say all you want to, but until somebody goes through it, then they realize it’s not that bad. Just remember, it’s your audit. It’s not the auditor’s audit, it’s your systems. Take your time. Make sure it works for you.