To be in compliance with consumer protection regulations, food manufacturers need to fulfill strict safety, quality, and operational criteria. The Global Standard for Food Safety, published by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), provides a basis for fulfilling these criteria. BRC started to revise this standard in early 2014. The new version, Issue 7 of the standard, was published in January 2015 and came into effect in July of the same year. Issue 7 brings some changes that manufacturers must comply with to meet the demands in this dynamic industry.
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For the first time, BRC invited international certification bodies to the BRC headquarters in London to play a proactive role in the development of the standard. TÜV SÜD used the opportunity to contribute its practical certification experience to the new version of the standard in order to give future audits a more practical focus. The new version aims at reducing the burden caused by audits as well as susceptibility to fraud. In addition, it is designed to ensure greater transparency and traceability in the supply chain and improve food safety at small sites that are still in development. The requirements of the standard further include many minor changes regarding specified product authenticity and claims, management of outsourced processing, and packaging and subcontractor approval. The revised standard also introduces new requirements for the management of suppliers of raw materials and packaging as well as more specific requirements for agents and brokers.
Improved Transparency and Traceability
To reduce the potential for product contamination, the standard defines two risk zones in the processing and storage facilities with different requirement levels of hygiene and segregation. New features of the standard are ambient high-care areas for products that do not require chilling and non-product areas, such as canteens, laundries, and offices. In the future, manufacturers also will have to define these areas. Issue 7 of the BRC standard introduces a stricter approach to exclusions from the certification scope. To exclude products that are manufactured at one site from the certification scope, organizations must ensure that these products are clearly differentiated from the certified products and produced in a physically separate area of the factory. In contrast to the previous version of the standard, products manufactured using different equipment but in the same production area can no longer be excluded from certification. The audit report has been extended to include an additional section for providing the reasons for any exclusion. The term “minority of products” is no longer used in the revised standard as it leaves too much room for interpretation and may cause misunderstanding.
New Grading System for Higher Quality
The revised standard also introduces a new grading structure and revised nomenclature. This modification is designed to ensure that relevant non-conformities are recorded in greater detail and to make the top grade more exclusive. The top grade of AA is only awarded if the audit reveals no more than five minor non-conformities and has the purpose of giving an incentive to engage in continuous improvement, even for manufacturers with excellent performance. In the lower segment, grade D was extended to stand for 25 to 30 minor non-conformities. The revised standard identifies the grades for unannounced audits with a “+” symbol added after the grade. BRC introduces the Global Markets Program, which makes initial certification easier for small suppliers and sites that are still developing their management systems for food safety. The Enrollment program has been revised so that audits are now offered at three levels. The starter audit, the Basic Level, is closely aligned to the Global Markets Program of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). The advanced program, known as Intermediate Level, is aligned to the higher requirements of the GFSI Global Markets Program. The highest level that can be achieved is full BRC certification. As a matter of principle, the audits of the basic and intermediate level are carried out according to the same rules as a full BRC audit but with certain exceptions, such as restricted requirements and shorter audit duration. The organization does not receive a grade. The audit can only be passed or failed. Organizations receive a confirmation that they have fulfilled the requirements of the respective level. These confirmations are clearly distinguishable from a full BRC certificate. Companies can use the new system to successively approach full certification. Independent technical inspection agencies, such as TÜV SÜD, conduct such audits and can grant BRC certifications.
Interactive Information Platform
BRC has developed an online information management system that provides access to all content related to the Global Standard for Food Safety—from interpretation guidelines and support publications, webinars, case studies, and whitepapers to social media posts. Interested parties can also make use of the BRC Participate discussion forum and exchange certification-related ideas and experience with international colleagues. This service can keep consumers, certification bodies, trainers, and consultants up to date.
Following the revision of the BRC standard, similar revisions that point in the same direction can be expected for other food standards, such as the International Featured Standards Food (IFS Food). IFS Food is a recognized standard for auditing the product and process safety and quality of food manufacturers. It addresses both food processing and food packaging organizations. The standard is being revised at present. Publication of IFS Food Issue 7 is expected by Jan. 1, 2017; it will become mandatory starting from July 1, 2017. Companies that have already implemented the new requirements of the Global Standard for Food Safety should inform themselves at regular intervals to ensure they will be able to respond appropriately to any revision.