By Siarl Siviyer Dixon, Certification Manager

“A quiet evolution”. That is how the new BRCGS Food Safety Issue 9 standard has been described because, like any quality standard with over 20 years and its 9th edition, there is no need for substantial changes, but rather just a refinement of what already exists.

The revision of the current BRCGS Food Safety Issue 8 standard ensures that the new edition incorporates the most recent industry trends and operations, as well as practical experiences and best practices from the industry. Issue 9 is taking into consideration all the lessons learned from the adaptation forced upon the industry by the COVID-19 pandemic, the new regulatory changes, and the latest requirements from the food industry.

BRCGS Food Safety Issue 9 Resources

At a recent BRCGS Americas Conference, participants were given a sneak-peek into what is likely to be published in August 2022 and audited in February 2023. AIB International was present at the event and, to support our customers, we are already planning a free webinar and courses led by BRCGS-approved training providers. Register here to receive notifications and invitations to participate in our events.

What’s coming with Issue 9?

The introduction of a blended audit option, also known as a hybrid, is the single most exciting development in Issue 9. As the author of Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari, pointed out, “the pandemic has fast-forwarded behaviors and methodologies which were once seen as for future years into the present moment.”

Formerly considered exceptions and non-acceptable activities, like working from home or distance learning, are now mainstream. And the auditing process has not been immune to this change. The part of the blended audit that is usually conducted in a conference room can now be done remotely using a video platform like Zoom or Microsoft Teams to facilitate the sharing of documents, files, and records. Within 28 days, the next portion of the audit must be conducted on-site.

A Greener Format

With proper planning, a blended or hybrid audit can result in substantial cost savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions. In 2019, under the BRCGS Food Safety standard, an auditor required 10 flights and 13 days of accommodation to be able to audit five sites within the same country. In 2020, with the arrival of COVID-19 and the introduction of the hybrid audit model, the same auditor only needed four flights and 7 nights of accommodation to audit the same five facilities.

During the BRCGS Americas Conference, research conducted by BRCGS showed that regarding audit outcome (NCs and grades), there is no significant difference between blended/hybrid audits and regular audits. Learn more about hybrid inspections by watching this recorded webinar led by AIB International.

In terms of the requirements themselves, they are not changing much in Issue 9. BRCGS is still strongly focused on food safety and food safety culture, and facilities will have to commit to these concepts in their quality policy, and the desired behaviors will have to be defined within the plan. I am sure we will have some fascinating discussions at our training sessions as delegates with different backgrounds exchange ideas.

In many cases, facilities are required to comply with regulatory agencies, stakeholders, and HACCP standards. BRCGS has taken steps to clarify that the Standard does not require the facility to use any specific model or jargon to satisfy these requirements. Whatever is in place should be able to comply with the requirements with only minor adjustments. A common example of an adjustment would be outsourced processing, whereby an intermediate step is conducted at another facility, in which case, the process must be described in the HACCP plan. The validation requirements will also be updated for clarity.

Other Key Changes

Food defense has its own section and sites have the option to consider it, jointly with food fraud, in the same document. The Standard will place an increased emphasis on root cause analysis, so it will be vital to keep an eye out for this. Vendor approval clauses have been improved by ensuring that companies consider food defense and food fraud are central to the assessment process.

Overall, the facilities section has seen minor adjustments, with stronger requirements for equipment control and commissioning, catering, and a few other matters like plastic strip curtains.

Staff involved in assessing food fraud will need to be able to demonstrate their competence and expertise. Animal Fee Production will now be permitted within the scope. The section on animal conversion, which defines the exact controls that must be in place in slaughterhouses, is an example of a requirement that emerged directly from the GFSI benchmark process.

If time separation is used for high-care facilities, a robust system must be in place and all traded products must be assessed under a product safety plan.

As you can see, there is nothing to fear from Issue 9. What will be needed is a sharp eye for details and a full and strong internal audit plan.

As you read this article, please keep in mind that it was written based on information presented during the BRCGS Americas Conference in May 2022, and that because the official BRCGS Food Safety Issue 9 Standard will be released in August 2022, small changes may still occur. It is extremely important that you keep an eye out for the final version and download it as soon as it is released.

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