Third-party food safety certification is increasingly becoming a necessity for food manufacturers looking to do business on an international scale. Because food law and the rigor with which it is enforced can vary from region to region, international food safety certifiers use audits to determine whether a company’s food safety system is appropriate and effective. If the food safety system is found to be ineffective, audits are the baseline for determining which steps the company must take in order to achieve compliance and receive certification.
One of the first and most critical steps to becoming certified with an international food safety regulator is to undergo an on-site audit. In a process generally lasting a minimum of two working days, a food safety auditor representing the certification program travels to the food manufacturing facility and performs an in-person assessment of potential hazards and critical control points. This involves inspecting both the production line itself as well as performing an audit of documentation relevant to food safety.
Based on this initial visit, the auditor will then draft a list of requirements that the food manufacturer must fulfill in order to obtain certification, as well as recommendations for how to proceed. Some common steps which food manufacturers must take in order to become certified with international food safety regulators include:
After the food manufacturer has implemented the necessary changes to their food safety management system, the auditing firm may perform a series of follow-up visits. Once compliance has been confirmed, the food manufacturer receives their certification.
The Global Food Safety Initiative estimates that the approval process for their internationally recognized food safety certification programs takes an average of six to nine months from the initial audit to the day certification is granted. IFS also provides a handy online calculator that can help food manufacturers estimate the minimum duration of their initial audit for IFS Food Certification 6.1.
The upfront costs involved in obtaining food safety certification from a third-party auditing firm vary depending on the size of the manufacturing facilities and the scope of the production process. For the initial on-site audit, food manufacturers should expect to spend between $5,000 and $10,000 USD, not including additional travel costs.
After the initial audit is through, food manufacturers are tasked with financing the changes necessary to achieve compliance. This includes both one-time costs, such as purchasing and installing more in-process inspection devices, as well as on-going costs, such as hiring an in-house Food Safety Systems Manager. The total out-of-pocket spending involved depends heavily on the preparedness of the facilities prior to pursuing certification.
Following approval to receive food safety certification, food manufacturers must also pay on-going inspection and re-certification fees on an annual basis.
Once a food safety auditor begins an on-site visit, there are five different phases they must carry out before they leave:
After the on-site audit, a more detailed audit report will follow. This report contains a complete overview of the scope of the audit, what was observed, which food safety criteria were met, which were unmet, as well as areas for improvement.
In addition to on-site audits by representatives from the certifying organization, international food safety certification programs often also require that food manufacturing facilities have an internal auditing program in place. Here is a brief overview of the internal audit requirements from two leading international certifying organizations, International Featured Standards (IFS) and the British Retail Consortium Global Standards (BRC).
An effective internal auditing system is a knock-out requirement in IFS Version 7, meaning compliance is necessary to receive certification. The scope and frequency of internal audits should be based on risk assessment (5.1.1), and each department is to be audited by a competent person who is independent of that department (5.1.3).
The results of internal audits, including any corrective actions, shall be communicated to senior management as well as parties responsible for the audited activities. All corrective actions are to be verified (5.1.4).
Areas to be audited include production and storage premises, external areas, in-process controls, ongoing hygiene protocols, and foreign material hazards (5.2.1). Additionally, the company’s HACCP plan shall be verified at least once yearly, in part through internal audits (22.214.171.124.5)
BRC Version 8 requires a scheduled internal audit program with a minimum of four yearly audits that cover all activities at least once annually. The precise frequency of audits for each activity is to be based on a risk assessment, and the scope of the audits must include prerequisite programs such as pest control, food fraud prevention programs, and any procedures implemented in order to achieve compliance with BRC (3.4.1). Internal audits are also considered to be a means of confirming the effectiveness of the company’s HACCP plan (2.12.1).
Internal auditors must be appropriately trained and sufficiently independent from the department they are auditing (3.4.2). They should document both conformities and non-conformities, include objective evidence of the findings, and report the results to the responsible parties (3.4.3).
Additionally, separate inspections for the areas of hygiene (cleaning, housekeeping) and equipment performance must be performed and documented at least once per month (3.4.4).
As the global food supply chain becomes more complex with each passing year, international certification programs and the food safety audits they perform have an important role to play in protecting consumer health and corporate trust all over the world.For many food industry companies, obtaining certification from international food safety auditors is a time- and resource-intensive pursuit that could involve overhauling many aspects of their production line. But the short-term costs involved in third-party food safety certification pale in comparison to the long-term positive returns. The results of an initial food safety audit provide companies with valuable insight into their processes and food safety management system as well as concrete feedback about where they can be improved. Furthermore, once compliance has been achieved and certification granted, companies can gain access to lucrative international markets and leading global players in the food industry.
The food industry is among the most regulated industries in the world. Manufacturers and processors must comply with a multitude of laws, rules, regulations, ordinances, and guidelines in order to produce and market foods in different regions.
This e-book is meant to offer a comprehensive overview of the varying and influential factors shaping the future of food manufacturing and processing. We hope you find many valuable and interesting pieces of information inside.