On August 1st, BRCGS released the latest issue of the Global Standard for Food Safety. This publication stipulates the newly revised requirements for food manufacturers to achieve certification. From equipment hygiene to process control, this article summarises and explains the key points of the updated standard as relevant to food businesses.
NOTE – this article uses descriptions and images of some Klipspringer products to provide tangible examples in advising how best to comply with the updated V9 standard. We are immensely proud of our work and its impact. However, we want to clarify that this article is primarily about helping food businesses to adjust to the new safety standards in the food and beverage industry, not self-promotion.
Adopted by 30,000 certified food manufacturers and suppliers in over 130 countries around the world, BRCGS aim to standardise quality, safety, and operational criteria to ensure that manufacturers fulfil their legal obligations and provide protection for the end consumer. The Global Standard for Food Safety was first published in 1998, as British retailers sought to raise the bar of industry hygiene and compliance standards. While it is not a legal requirement in the UK, most large food retail brands and foodservice companies demand that their suppliers are BRCGS-certified.
Issue 9 was released four years on from its predecessor, issue 8, which was published on August 1st, 2018. The key changes between these two issues are informed by the most frequently occurring non-conformities, which, in 2021, comprised the following:
Continue reading for guidance on how food businesses can implement strategies, policies, and procedures to get ahead of the food compliance curve before Issue 9 becomes fully auditable from February 1st, 2023.
Key Area #1 – Culture
Key Area #2 – Equipment
Key Area #3 – Product Control
Key Area #4 – Process Control
BRCGS Issue 9 places the onus on the role of senior management in committing to continual improvement. As seen in Clause 1.1.2, the updated standard contains a far more tangible focus on the power of top-down company culture in perpetuating food safety standards.
BRCGS has put a fundamental focus on the commitment of a site's senior management to the implementation of the updated requirements, including a site's food safety and quality culture. Clause 1.1 (‘Senior Management Commitment and Continual Improvement’) is one of the BRCGS’s twelve ‘fundamental’ requirements to achieve certification against the new issue. Within this, Clause 1.1.2 provides a specific list of activity design features needed to enact this positive culture change.
These include activities such as open commnication on product safety, training, feedback from employees, required behaviours to sustain and improve product safety processes, a plan indicating how these activities will be carried out, and a review of their effectivness.
Of particular interest are the specification for employee feedback – an invaluable, if sometimes overlooked activity – as well as an action plan involving processes, measurements, and timelines. As Issue 8 made no reference to review, or frequency of review, requiring this plan to be reviewed and updated on a yearly basis is also new to V9 of the standard.
Given its position as the third most common type of non-conformity on the above list, equipment compliance is logically one of the predominant focal points of the updated standard. This can be seen across the range of clauses explained below.
In clause 4.6.1, we see much more detailed guidance on sites' responsibilities regarding equipment managment than in Issue 8. This includes a documented purchase specification, as well as any relevant legislation, food contact approved requirements, and details of intended use of the equipment.
To this end, it will be invaluable to have a reliable place to keep track of production and hygiene utensils used on site, equipment verification schedules, calibration due dates, and warranty lengths. An example is our Calibration, Audit and Product Certificate Portal, which allows users to…
- View and download compliance certificates
- Manage technical equipment
- Track calibration due dates
- Download calibration certificates
…therefore maintaining compliance with the final part of Clause 4.6.1, stating that suppliers should be able to evidence that the equipment meets the necessary requirements prior to being procured.
Another common cause of audit non-conformances is contamination – whether it be microbiological, allergenic, or foreign body. Often, these various forms of contamination take hold in the hidden crevices and small parts of food manufacturing or cleaning equipment, hence the updated standard's requirement for using correct seals, impervious surfaces, or smooth welds and joints.
In light of this, it is strongly recommended that equipment is chosen based on risk minimisation. Shadow boards offer a fitting example. As an increasingly popular hygiene management and storage solution across the food industry, shadow boards can be constructed to minimise cross-contamination – but only when designed with food safety in mind.
Specifically, this means minimal welds, joints, or hidden crevices behind the board. One solution is a through-board hook system (above), which keeps shadow boards hygienic, easy to clean, and free of any foreign body risks. Another is a magnetic mounting option, which allows for convenient and regular cleaning behind the board.
This particular clause emphasises the pressing need for portable handheld equipment to be designed with a focus on prevention of food safety risks. At factory or production sites, pens are the most commonly found handheld utensil, and are consequently the cause of many foreign body contamination non-conformities due to clips, springs, and other small, breakable parts.
Practises a site may consider reviewing include excluding non-approved items and restricting the use of site-issued equipment. Furthermore, sites should ensure any such portable handheld equipment items are designed without small external parts, as well as being detectable by detection equipment (metal detectors, X-ray etc.), or are only used in areas where contamination is specifically prevented.
Organisations with the highest priority on compliance mandate the use of pens which, first and foremost, prevent foreign body contamination (through shatterproof pens made of durable materials, with no metal springs), and – as a last resort – are detectable by x-rays and metal detectors.
Ensuring a safe, consistent, and contaminant-free product is the backbone of any food business. While product control doesn’t tend to rank high on lists of the most frequent non-conformances, when it does appear, it often has disastrous consequences, both to the safety of consumers, and the reputation of brands.
Clause 5.3 (‘Management of Allergens’) is another of the BRCGS’s twelve ‘fundamental’ requirements to achieve certification against the new issue. Within this, Clause 5.3.4 outlines various procedures for carrying out effective management of allergenic materials.
Broadly, this means minimising the risk of allergen contmination and cross-contact by having a system or process for managing allergenic materials, and which as a baseline meets legal labelling requirements.
Overarchingly, it suggests segregating allergen-containing materials during storage, processing, and packing, as well as having on-site a set of separated, identified PPE and utensils for dealing with these materials.
What is the best way of identifying these utensils by allergen?
A compelling solution is colour-coding. Whether it be production utensils, brushware, squeegees or storage containers, using sharp, vibrant colours to clearly delineate equipment by its purpose is a reliable way of preventing allergenic cross-contamination. With stronger colours, compliance failures can be easily spotted, which makes the management of allergen segregation easier. See the below table for how colour-coded equipment might be implemented.
Another popular method of managing allergens is physical segregation using screens, curtains, or covers. Hygienically designed for food industry environments, these segregators prevent cross-contamination, as well as reducing production downtime and eliminating unnecessary single-use plastics.
Animal primary conversion is an entirely new section included under the updated standard. It states the importance of implementing specific controls to keep food safe, authentic, and legal during the conversion process – above all using risk assessment results to inform testing procedures and raw material acceptance. It states the company shall undertake a risk assessment for potential prohibited substances, including pharmaceuticals, veterinary medicines, heavy metals and pesticides.
As another of the BRCGS’s ‘fundamental’ requirements, process control is essential for ensuring full compliance with a HACCP (Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points) or food safety plan. For maximum effectiveness, it usually involves documentation and systematisation of production procedures to optimise product quality, safety, and legality.
In cluase 6.1.3, the standard alludes to the importance of process monitoring for ensuring products are produced within the required process specification. In relation to this, wireless monitoring systems are proven to provide highly accurate, real-time temperature data, support food safety compliance, and cut costs of loading refrigerated food transportation. Clause 6.1.3 includes temperature, time, pressure, and chemical properties as some examples of parameters which are key to measure; wireless monitoring systems will typically have the capability to also measure:
- Door contact
- Data from advanced plant/engineering sensors
For more information, view the recording of our recent webinar on the nine factors to consider when choosing a wireless monitoring system. Drawing on decades of industry experience, our team dissect nine relevant factors – from the system’s hardware to its data storage access.
Clause 6.1.4 directly addresses another of these factors: the type of alarm used by monitoring systems. A good tip is to look out for the systems that issue alarms by the widest range of mediums, so you can adapt the system to best suit your site or team.
In the event of an alarm – whether it be a product quality issue or a malfunctioning chiller unit – speedy and decisive action is essential. This cannot happen without being instantly notified about the situation, which highlights the urgent need for alarms to be sent by a variety of methods (e.g. phone call, SMS, email) rather than depending on just one. The clause includes a requirement to routinely check that the alarm and alert system is working correctly.
Clause 6.4.3 makes it clear all equipment that is in direct contact with food shall be suitable for food contact and must adhere to legal requirements where applicable. This includes common instrumentation devices which measure a specific parameter – the most common being temperature-measuring probe thermometers – must in turn be checked for accuracy and recalibrated.
The updated standard strongly emphasises the need for this checking process to adhere to a recognised national or international standard. In the UK, the most credible recognised standard is UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service), which distinguishes the industry’s leading measuring devices from the satisfactory.
Consider re-evaluating outdated approaches to accuracy checks of measuring devices. This is particularly relevant to thermometers; many companies still use the traditional ice or boiling water check, without realising that there are far more innovative methods which remove all subjectivity from checks, and save quality assurance teams hours each month.
This article has looked at four key areas of the BRCGS’s latest Global Standard for Food Safety and picked out nine standout clauses, explaining their requirements – and providing tangible solutions – for food businesses.
BRCGS (2022a) Global Standard Food Safety Issue 9. Available at: https://www.brcgs.com/our-standards/food-safety/issue-9-revision/.
BRCGS (2022b) Food Safety Issue 9 Interpretation Guideline. Available as purchase.
BRCGS (2022c) Training Academy. Available at https://www.brcgs.com/training/overview/.
At Klipspringer, we’ve specialised in food safety and audit compliance for more than twenty years. As a BRCGS partner organisation, we provide innovative solutions and industry-leading advice for the smallest artisan producers up to the largest food manufacturers. This includes Greencore, Bakkavor, Whitbread, McDonalds, Kerry, Hovis, Greggs – and even the NHS!