British Retail Consortium Global Standard for Food Safety
- Global adoption
- Choosing a registrar
- Route to registration
- Contributing editor
Major retailers had previously developed and operated their own standards for managing quality in production of food products bearing their brand name. Each of them employed teams of technologists to monitor conformance throughout the supply chain. A single food safety standard was first developed in 1998 by the retailers’ trade association, the British Retail Consortium (BRC), under the title ‘The British Retail Consortium Technical Standard for Companies Supplying Retailer Branded Food Products’. The new standard enabled producers to be assessed for compliance in a single audit by independent, third party certification bodies against a single consistent standard, ideally replacing multiple audits by individual retailers.
The British Retail Consortium Global Standard for Food Safety specifies the basic requirements of a quality management system (QMS) that a producer must fulfil to demonstrate its ability to consistently produce safe and legal food products. It is one of a series of global standards produced by the consortium, including ‘BRC Storage and Distribution’, ‘BRC Packaging and Packaging Materials’ and ‘BRC Consumer Products’, which together cover all activities within the grocery supply chain.
All BRC Global Standards are reviewed on a 3-4 year cycle and the food standard, now in its fifth issue, is currently undergoing review by a Working Group in consultation with all interested stakeholders via the BRC website. Issue 6 is expected to be published in July 2011 for implementation in January 2012.
All BRC Standards are closely managed by the Consortium who license its use by certification bodies, which must be both accredited by their national accreditation body (UKAS in the UK) and abide by strict requirements for auditor competency, reporting and performance. Copies of the standard, together with all BRC publications are available through the BRC website bookshop.
The BRC Global Standard for Food Safety is divided into four sections:
- Section I describes the format of the standard, its background, scope and benefits. It describes a food safety management system wherein the producer must have a full understanding of its products and implement systems to identify and control hazards that are significant to the safety of the products. Two key elements are outlined, i.e. Senior Management Commitment to food safety management and the development of a food safety plan based on HACCP principles.
Section II details the requirements of the standard. These are listed under seven main headings (the number in brackets refers to the number of subheadings in each section):
- Senior Management Commitment and Continual Improvement (0)
- The Food safety Plan – HACCP (13)
- Food Safety & Quality Management System (11)
- Site Standards (12)
- Product Control (7)
- Process Control (3)
- Personnel (5)
Each heading and subheading is followed by a ‘statement of intent’, which producers must comply with in order to gain certification. Below this are the individual requirements of each subsection, 325 in total.
Ten headings or subheadings are identified as fundamental requirements and relate to “systems that are crucial to the establishment and operation of an effective food quality and safety operation”. They are statements of intent that must be met on the day of the audit, failing which non-certification will result. To satisfy these requirements a company must be able to demonstrate that the systems are well established by producing sufficient evidence of a history of compliance.
- Section III describes how to gain certification and gives details of the audit process, including selection of a certification body, and the certification process.
- Section IV describes the BRC Directory, a searchable database of (a) sites certificated against the four BRC Standards, and (b) certification bodies.
Is the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety relevant to your organization?
The BRC Global Standard for Food Safety is suitable for all organizations who prepare primary food products and process foods as retailer branded products, branded food products and food or ingredients used by foodservice and catering companies and food manufacturers. Importantly, some element of open food handling must exist within the operation for this standard to be applied.
Whereas the ISO 9000 series of quality standards can apply to an organisation, certification to the food safety standard is site-specific. For large organisations, it is the producing site which gains certification, not the organisation. Certification applies only to products that have been manufactured or prepared at the audited site. Storage and distribution activities that are under the direct control of the audited site, including the storage and distribution of factored goods produced elsewhere, will be covered by certification. Other BRC standards have been developed to cover sites engaged solely in the storage and distribution of food products.
The standard has continued to develop through frequent reviews by a Working Group drawn from retailers, trade associations, manufacturers and certification bodies, and has been widely adopted by organisations outside of retailing, including foodservice companies, caterers, group purchasing organisations and manufacturers seeking to monitor their own supply chains. It was the first food standard to be approved by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).
Now in its fifth issue (GSFS5), the current standard is available in 18 languages and there are now over 13,000 sites worldwide that are independently certified, making it the most widely used food safety standard in the world today.
Implementing a Food Safety Management System such as GSFS5 will:
- Open up new markets, raise customer confidence and reduce requests for audits and completion of self-assessment questionnaires
- Identify controls that must be applied to eliminate food safety hazards, thereby reducing non-conforming product and waste and reducing the risk of product recall and withdrawal
- Identify opportunities for continual improvement and improved management of resources
- Motivate staff by providing clear, unambiguous instructions and defining key roles and responsibilities
Certification against GSFS5 is achieved by demonstrating compliance with the standard during an audit by an accredited third-party certification body. The audit lasts between 1½ - 2 days, during which the auditor will review every aspect of the QMS, including documentation and records, and tour the production facility while production is in progress. In this respect, special consideration should be given when agreeing the date for the audit to avoid periods when there are seasonal gaps in production, shutdowns, numbers of key staff on leave, etc.
Choosing a registrar
The decision to seek certification against the food standard is most often customer driven. Customers may require, as a minimum, evidence of intention to seek certification, such as a signed contract with a certification body, before they will buy from you. They may also place restrictions as to which certification body or bodies may be used.
However, where there is freedom of choice, there are over 1,000 certification bodies globally, most of which can be found in the Standards.org Certification Body Directory, searchable by name, country, and the Standard(s) that they are accredited to audit against. It is important to select an approved certification body that is accredited for the appropriate standard and for the product category relevant to your operation.
Eighteen Product Categories are listed in Appendix 3 of the Standard, as follows:
- Raw red meat
- Raw poultry
- Raw prepared products (meat and vegetarian)
- Raw fish products and preparations
- Fruits, vegetables and nuts.
- Prepared fruit, vegetables and nuts,
- Dairy, liquid egg
- Cooked meat/ fish products
- Raw cured and/or fermented meat and fish
- Ready meals and sandwiches, ready-to-eat desserts
- Low/high acid in cans/glass
- Alcoholic drinks and fermented/ brewed products
- Dried foods and ingredients
- Cereals and snacks
- Oils and fats
Route to registration
Section III of the standard describes how to gain certification. The essential stages are:
- Obtain a copy of the standard and conduct a self-assessment or ‘gap analysis’. This can be done internally by, or with the help of, an external consultant. Alternatively, some certification bodies will carry out a pre-assessment. This will be shorter than the full audit and therefore cheaper, as is does not include a written report.
- Select a certification body to carry out the initial assessment, fix dates and agree scope of the audit.
- Audit preparation – aligning the QMS to comply with the standard.
- The Audit or ‘initial assessment‘. The auditor will announce his findings to senior management at the closing meeting, itemising non-conformances, classified as critical, major or minor. An action plan for achieving closure of each non-conformance raised will be agreed with senior management, evidence of which must be submitted within 28 days to the certification body. The significance of the fundamental requirements becomes clear in that, where a major non-conformance is raised against a fundamental requirement, it is not considered possible by the regulators of the Standard that a company is able to demonstrate that systems are well established to the degree required within the 28 day period.
- Certification – following the audit, the auditor can only give a recommendation for certification and an indication of the grade achieved. There are three ‘pass’ grades, A to C, based on the number and classification of the non-conformances raised and which will appear on the certificate. Certification can only be confirmed by the Certification Body once the corrective action plan has been submitted and approved. Issue of the certificate should follow within 6 weeks of the audit date,
- Audit Reporting – a full, typed audit report, which details both compliance and non-compliance, will follow. The report remains the property of the audited company and can only be released to a third party following receipt of written consent.
- Ongoing Assessment – the grade achieved in the initial assessment determines the frequency of future audits, i.e. 12 months for Grades A & B; six months for Grade C.
There will certainly be additional internal costs associated with the introduction and maintenance of a new QMS but this should eventually be outweighed as the benefits of implementation begin to emerge as cost savings.
External consultants with expert knowledge of the standard are often used to assist in the development and implementation of the scheme, so there will be professional fees to pay. The BRC Standard allows the use of consultants provided ownership of the scheme remains with the company.
Finally, there is the cost of the initial assessment and thereafter for ongoing assessment, usually on an annual basis depending on the level of compliance. Charges made by certification bodies vary significantly and to confuse matters, the various bodies may quote a day rate or a fixed price for the audit, which may be inclusive or exclusive of travel and accommodation expenses. Ensure the certification body is recognised by your customers and that the auditor has relevant sector experience for your industry sector. Where choice is available, common sense should prevail in obtaining more than one quote and avoiding both the extremes, i.e. the cheapest and the most expensive.
Bob Bowman is a food technologist with 25 years experience in quality assurance, product/ process development and technical management roles. Bob has 16 years experience as an independent consultant for RGB Food Management Services, consulting to the food industry, where he is involved in the development of quality management systems, particularly leading to certification against the BRC Standards.
His clients are mainly food producers who need technical support with quality systems, HACCP, audit preparation, problem solving, process improvement, projects, etc. Bob has worked with SMEs who have little or no in-house technical resource, leading many through the audit process and successfully on to certification. He also offers ongoing system and technical support. Bob has also worked for larger companies who need additional technical resources to solve problems or kickstart new and existing projects.
The product sectors in which Bob has particular experience include:
- Fresh meat & poultry
- Prepared products (meat and vegetarian)
- Fresh & prepared fruit and vegetables
- Cooked meat/ fish products
- Low/high acid food in cans, glass and flexibles
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