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First published in 1998, the BRCGS Global Food Safety Standard “provides a framework to manage product safety, integrity, legality, and quality, and the operational controls for these criteria in the food and food ingredient manufacturing, processing, and packing industry.” BRCGS was the first standard to be benchmarked by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and has been adopted by over 22,000 sites in 130 countries.
Over the past 24 years, the Global Food Safety Standard has been updated regularly to reflect the latest trends in food safety and to encourage more widespread adoption. The latest version—Issue 9—was recently launched on August 1, 2022. According to the Standard, the focus for the most recent issue has been on the following:
- Encouraging understanding and further development of product safety culture.
- Ensuring global applicability, compatibility with the Codex General Principles of Food Hygiene, and benchmarking to the GFSI requirements.
- Expanding audit options to include the use of information and communication technology through a blended option.
- Updating the requirements associated with core product safety activities, such as internal audits, root cause analysis, preventive actions, and incident management.
- Providing greater clarity for sites completing animal primary conversion and producing animal feed.
Of important note, Issue 9 emphasizes two core themes: building core competencies and developing food safety culture.
According to BRCGS, approximately 30% of nonconformances identified in food safety audits are related to what BRCGS calls “core competencies”. Core competencies are the basic elements and day-to-day activities that form the foundation of any food safety program. As audit results have demonstrated, many food businesses still aren’t getting the basic functions right when it comes to their daily work practices.
At its core, Issue 9 calls for more to be done to reduce nonconformances across the industry. The Standard believes the best way to do that is to improve and optimize the fundamentals (i.e., the core competencies). The requirements the Standard has specifically deemed “fundamental” include the following:
- Senior management commitment and continual improvement (1.1)
- Food safety plan – Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) (2)
- Internal audits (3.4)
- Management of suppliers of raw materials and packaging (3.5.1)
- Corrective and preventive actions (3.7)
- Traceability (3.9)
- Layout, product flow, and segregation (4.3)
- Housekeeping and hygiene (4.11)
- Management of allergens (5.3)
- Control of operations (6.1)
- Labeling and pack control (6.2)
- Training: raw material handling, preparation, processing, packing, and storage areas (7.1)
Core competencies must not just be established, but they must also receive ongoing attention and improvements to conform with the Global Food Safety Standard. These core competencies are critical to creating a strong food safety culture—the second core theme of Issue 9.
Food Safety Culture
Food safety culture and its introduction into various certification schemes and regulations is a hot trend that continues to grow in importance. Artifacts of product safety culture have actually been included in the BRCGS standard since its inception in 1998, but food safety culture wasn’t added as a specific requirement until Issue 8. Issue 9 takes food safety culture to the next level with the requirement for organizations to put in place defined activities and behaviors—with defined timescales and measurements—to support the improvement of food safety and culture.
In Issue 9, food safety culture is now part of the fundamental section in 1.1 Management Commitment to ensure development and continuous improvement. In addition, sites must have a Food Safety Culture Plan that requires, at a minimum:
- Clear and open communication on product safety
- Feedback from employees
- Behavior changes required to maintain and improve product safety processes
- Performance measurement on product safety, authenticity, legality, and quality-related activities
Sites currently certified globally to the BRCGS Global Food Safety Standard will have a transition period of six months to prepare their food safety systems to be audited against Issue 9’s requirements. Certification audits will commence February 1, 2023. In addition to the announced audit program (with mandatory unannounced audit every three years) and the unannounced audit program, which both remain largely unchanged since Issue 8, Issue 9 introduces a blended announced audit option that comprises a remote audit focused primarily on documented systems and records, followed by an onsite audit to review production, storage, and other onsite areas.
The next six months affords companies the time to assess current BRCGS Food Safety program elements; identify improvements that are internally desirable and required by the new Issue 9; and implement those updates that will create a strong food safety culture, improve core competencies, and reduce nonconformances with the BRCGS Food Safety Standard.
This can be done through a series of phases to ensure adoption throughout the organization.
- Phase 1: BRCGS Food Safety Internal Assessment – Review existing BRCGS food programs, processes, and procedures; document management systems; and employee training tools and programs to identify those need areas in need of updates, development, and/or implementation to meet the requirements of Issue 9.
- Phase 2: BRCGS Food Program Updates – Based on the assessment, develop a plan for updating the BRCGS Food Safety certification program, including major activities, key milestones, and expected outcomes. This may include updating/developing BRCGS Food programs, processes, procedures, and training with missing Issue 9 requirements and incorporating new food safety culture requirements (i.e., Food Safety Culture Plan).
- Phase 3: Training – To ensure staff are prepared to implement and sustain the updated BRCGS Food Safety program, staff must be trained on applicable requirements; specific plans, procedures, and good manufacturing practices (GMPs) developed to achieve compliance; and the certification roadmap to prepare for future assessments.
Following this plan now will help companies ensure they maintain their BRCGS Food Safety certification when assessments begin under Issue 9 in February 2023.