Within CIES – The Food Business Forum (CIES), specialists are working on drafting a global standard for food safety which should encompass all current standards. However, since no single standard meets all the criteria, adaptations will have to be made. For this reason, the BRC standard will also require a certification procedure.

The BRC Technical Standard could serve as the basis for a standard for quality management among suppliers of private label products and fresh products.

To restore consumer confidence, a number of large retailers have created The Global Food Safety Initiative. The Task Force set up for this purpose currently comprises of 38 Quality Managers from retailers world-wide. The Task Force has set four priorities:

  1. To define the Key Elements, i.e. the criteria which will serve as a basis for evaluating existing standards.
  2. To set up an international Early Warning System.
  3. To inform all parties involved, especially consumers.
  4. To establish partnerships between public authorities and the food business.

This article describes the advances made in the field of standardisation.

A bridge too far
Retailers want to be able to evaluate the performance of their suppliers. As of today, many standards have been drawn up for this purpose. Most of them are used in a limited geographic area, and by a small group of retailers. Examples include the British BRC technical standard, the Australian standard SQF-2000, and the Irish standard NSAI.

Ideally, there should be a single world standard, harmonising all current standards. In the current situation, this would seem “a bridge too far,” given the interests in play in existing standards. For this reason, an intermediate approach has been taken. It is designed to draft a list of all requirements, without including them immediately in a single standard. The current approach consists in preparing a procedure that can be used to benchmark to what degree current standards meet the defined criteria, and are eligible for endorsement. Drafting these Key Elements is currently under way. The task force is studying existing standards, the Codex Alimentarius, applicable ISO standards, and legal requirements. Naturally, codes of practice and developments in food science and public health are also taken into account. The task force has defined the following Key Elements:

  • Quality management systems
  • Good practices in agriculture (GAP), manufacturing (GMP) and distribution (GDP)
  • HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point).

HACCP should become an integral part of quality systems, but in food safety this aspect is considered crucial enough to be a category in itself. The detailed treatment of the various components making up the Key Elements will deal with such issues as allergens and traceability, which are currently the subject of numerous discussions, particularly in the political arena.
Drafting the Key Elements should be completed this summer, laying the groundwork for the next phase: endorsement of existing standards. It should therefore be possible to apply endorsed standards by 2002. This will be the first step towards a global standard, since all endorsed standards will meet the same criteria.

Different approaches
This does not necessarily imply that the results of audits will be comparable as such. Even today, while the Netherlands and the United Kingdom apply the same standard, the audit results are not always considered to be reliable. This is due to differences in approach with regard to the actual application of the standard.

To overcome this problem, the task force is currently developing two new documents. The first document is a protocol concerning audits. It will define, for example, the frequency of the audits after the first evaluation, and a timetable for certification renewal requests. This means there will be a classification of food products and risk factors. The audit and audit report format will also be dealt with.

The second document is a guide intended for certification bodies. In fact, it is a detailed version of ISO-EC Guide 65 (also known as EN 45011) made specific for food producing companies. This document describes the requirements that a certification body must meet to be allowed to issue certificates. However, this in itself does not guarantee that the auditing procedure will be completely harmonised.

The certification bodies are placed under the supervision of accreditation bodies which each have their own work methods. A network of multilateral agreements, placed under the supervision of the IAF (International Accreditation Forum) should ensure that the accreditation of certification bodies is the same everywhere in the world. The organisational structure to govern this process will be created within the framework of the Global Food Safety Initiative.

New form
For a long time, the situation in the Netherlands was unclear with regard to the requirements retailers set for their suppliers. Adoption of the BRC standard seems to have put an end to this state of affairs. Yet by opting for ISO Guide 65, the task force showed that it has chosen to go with a certification procedure that differs significantly from the currently applied procedure. Is the BRC standard already doomed?

When the task force compared existing standards to draft the Key Elements, it found that no standard quite met all the criteria. As of today, it is impossible to make a pronouncement with regard to the endorsement process, since discussions are still in progress. However, it already seems obvious that practically all standards will have to be adapted in order to be endorsed. With regard to the BRC standard, at least a certification procedure will have to be added.

There is nothing unusual about such adaptations. The BRC standard applied to the Netherlands is a translation of the second English version. Adapting the standard to the Key Elements fits perfectly into a system of continuous improvement. The Netherlands will probably continue to apply the BRC standard, but in a modified form, with certification. Likewise, other standards will continue to be applied after being adapted to the Key Elements.

Faster information sharing
While drafting a global standard is currently a key priority, the task force has many other issues on its agenda. Much has been said and written on early warning systems in the food production chain, and retailers wish to contribute to their implementation. Such a system absolutely must be international in scope. Far too often, national borders are less permeable to information on food than to the food products themselves. The system will have to fit into existing systems. If a problem arises one day in a given country, faster sharing of information will most certainly have a positive effect on consumer confidence.

A broader scope
Until today, the Global Food Safety Initiative was primarily run by retailers. The approach taken today would seem to allow a broader scopethan simply monitoring retail suppliers. It will be important to establish consultations with the other operators in the food chain, in order to determine how this initiative can becontinued.After all, it is indeed food safety – and therefore the consumer – that will be the primary beneficiary.

The BRC technical standard could serve as the starting point for a quality management standard for suppliers of private label products and fresh products. The results will be made public this summer.

By Hugo Byrnes, Director of Food Safety, CIES – The Food Business Forum, (h.byrnes@ciesnet.com)