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BRCGS has been at the forefront of driving food safety standards across the entire food supply chain since its establishment in 1996. The company was founded by retailers who wanted to harmonise food safety standards across the supply chain. The standards are now applied at over 28,000 certificated sites in 130 countries.
What does BRCGS stand for?
BRCGS are global standards that set benchmarks for quality, safety and consumer protection, underpinning brand reputation through compliance. Prior to their establishment, a number of second-party audits, that is, schemes owned by a single company or retailer, were used throughout the industry which led to high supply chain duplication and cost.
In 1996, UK retailers at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), a UK Trade Association, came together to agree a common approach to supplier auditing and the British Retail Consortium Global Standards (BRC Global Standards) was set up as a food safety third-party audit programme. By 1998 the majority of UK retailers had accepted the standards and the BRC then developed a series of global standards to support the food manufacturing sector in the UK.
In November 2016 BRC Global Standards was sold to LGC. In the same year, to remove the “British” connotation of BRC, to globalise the brand, and to make the organisation less retailer focussed, the organisation was rebranded as BRCGS; the BRC now standing for Brand, Reputation and Compliance and the standards are now known as the Brand Reputation Compliance Global Standards or BRCGS for short.
In 2018, BRCGS acquired the Allergen Control Group, owner and operator of the Gluten-Free Certification Programme. BRCGS is currently developing the first internationally recognised Plant-Based Certification Programme.
Who does BRCGS apply to?
Compliance with BRCGS is now often a fundamental requirement of leading retailers, manufacturers and quick-service restaurants.
BRCGS standards include:
- The BRCGS Global Food Safety Standard has set the benchmark for over 20 years. Adopted by over 20,000 sites in 130 countries, the standard is accepted by 70% of the top 10 global retailers, 60% of the top 10 quick-service restaurants, and 50% of the top 25 manufacturers.
- BRCGS Agents and Brokers Certification is recognised by many retailers, food service companies and manufacturers around the world when assessing the capabilities of their suppliers, covering certification for the following categories of products:
– Food products, including raw materials, processed foods, and fruit and vegetables.
– Packaging materials – primary, secondary and tertiary materials, and raw materials for the manufacture of packaging materials.
– Pet foods for domestic animals.
– Consumer products.
- The BRCGS Consumer Products Standards offer a holistic, best-in-class global solution, rooted in risk mitigation and best practice. This is shown by the fact that the Consumer Products Certification is accepted and specified by more global brand owners and retailers than any other scheme.
- Two standards have been written to incorporate the wide range of products that are in scope:
– Global Standard for Consumer Products – General Merchandise.
– Global Standard for Consumer Products – Personal Care and Household.
- The BRCGS Ethical Trading and Responsible Sourcing Standard meets the ever-evolving needs of clients, and responds to shifts in buyer, regulatory and investor behaviour. It is also the only global standard that provides supply chain confidence and true social compliance.
- BRCGS has designed a range of options for the Food Safety Culture Excellence assessment, depending on the size of the operation, to support assurance and improve food safety culture.
- BRGCS’s Gluten-Free Certification Program (GFCP) uses a scientifically proven, risk-based management systems approach for effectively controlling gluten and gluten cross-contamination from incoming ingredients to the final product.
- The BRCGS Packaging Materials Global Standard helps a site or operation to demonstrate they are providing products that are quality assured, legally compliant and authentic.
- The BRCGS Retail Standard sets out the requirements for companies in the food retail supply chain that provide services for the sourcing, purchase, importation, distribution, preparation and retailing of products. The companies may also own their own processing, storage or distribution facilities but these facilities are certificated to relevant production or storage and distribution standards.
- The BRCGS Storage and Distribution Certification Standard is specifically designed for logistics operations dealing with food, packaging and consumer products. It is easy to understand, uses prescriptive language, and is applicable for global applications. It is fully flexible as operations can implement the full scope, or a scope relevant to their operation, e.g. storage only, distribution only, transport only. The storage and/or distribution operations to which the standard is applied can be at any point in the distribution chain from primary production to retail.
- The BRCGS START! programme recognises and encourages the development of food safety systems in small sites where food safety management systems are immature. Developed in line with the full Food Safety Global Standard and the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Global Markets programme, it is recognised and supported by many leading brands and retailers.
- The BRCGS Plant-Based Global Standard can be applied as a simple add-on to any GFSI benchmarked Food Standard or Global Markets Program (intermediate level).
The Global Standard for Food Safety sets out requirements for how processed foods and other products – for example branded foods, retailer-brand foods or ingredients used by food service companies, caterers or manufacturers – should be made or prepared.
Many retailers across the UK, the US and Europe will only do business with suppliers who have passed an audit and been accredited by a BRCGS certification body.
What is the BRCGS grading system?
The BRCGS grading system is used throughout the whole supply chain, to reflect the food hygiene practices of each food business operator.
The standard covers:
- Senior management commitment – The organisation needs to commit at a senior management level to implementing and continually improving the organisation’s food safety processes.
- The Food Safety Plan (HACCP) – Having a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan in place allows the organisation to identify and manage any biological, chemical or physical hazards that could make the food it produces unsafe to eat.
- Food safety and quality management system – Organisations should implement a system that enables them to produce safe products, meet customers’ expectations and ensure staff are well trained.
- Site standards – Sites where the manufacture or preparation of food takes place must be laid out, maintained, cleaned and secured according to strict standards. Organisations must also meet requirements relating to the control of pests and foreign bodies.
- Product control – For products to be considered safe, organisations need to be able to demonstrate that they properly manage things such as allergens, provenance and product testing.
- Process control – Organisations must implement their HACCP plan from day to day and have effective procedures in place for ensuring that they manufacture products to the correct quality.
- Personnel – This part of the standard covers training, protective clothing and hygiene. Organisations need to ensure that all personnel are equipped with everything they need to carry out their duties in a safe manner.
BRCGS audits are graded on the number and type of non-conformances. Non-conformances can be either minor, major or critical, defined in Issue 8 of the BRCGS Global Standards for Food Safety, section 2.3.1.
- A minor non-conformance is a small deviation from requirements or where a clause has not been fully met.
- A major non-conformance raises significant doubt as to the conformity of the product being supplied.
- A critical non-conformance is a direct food safety or legal issue.
What are the BRCGS audit grades?
The minimum BRCGS grade needed by a company will depend on which retailer a manufacturer is supplying to.
The grading scale for BRCGS audits goes from AA as the highest to Uncertified in the order:
An unannounced audit will have a ‘+’ after the grade, for example, AA+. The number and types of non-conformances will objectively determine the grading.
The criteria for each grade are as followed:
- An AA grade has no more than 5 minors.
- An A is between 5 and 10 minors.
- A B is given for an audit with 11 to 16 minors, or 1 major and up to 10 minors.
- A C is given for an audit with 17 to 24 minors, or 1 major and up to 16 minors, or 2 majors and up to 10 minors.
- A D is between 25 and 30 minors, or 1 major and up to 24 minors, or 2 majors and up to 16 minors.
- An Uncertified grade is given if the audit has 1 or more critical, 31 or more minors, 1 major and 25 or more minors, 2 majors and 17 or more minors, or 3 or more majors.
A company has the right to appeal against the certification decision made by the certification body. This must be made in writing to the certification body within 7 days of the decision. The certification body should give a full written response within 30 days following a full and thorough investigation.
If a site appeals against a non-conformity within the 28 days following an audit, then it should be noted that the site is still expected to progress corrective action and submission of the evidence for this to the certification body. If resolution cannot be obtained by the two parties, then the company has the option to contact the BRCGS.
If a site fails to provide sufficient evidence of correction of the non-conformities within 28 days, then it cannot be certificated and will be required to complete another full audit before certification can be considered.
What does BRCGS require?
The BRCGS standards are thorough and scrutinise every possible area where food safety could be compromised. Auditors identify and correct 185,000 non-compliances every year.
An organisation seeking certification should be clear about what standard they want to be audited against (the full list of standards is detailed earlier in this article).
It is important to do this so that the organisation is aware of what the individual standard requirements are; it will give a clear understanding of the work involved in working towards gaining the standard and the resources that might be needed in order to achieve the standard. The individual standards sections on the BRCGS website provides links to its bookstore where the relevant documents and information is available for purchase and download.
- The main Standard requirements.
- The Interpretation Guidelines.
- The Key Changes Document.
- Voluntary Modules.
A BRCGS audit involves an assessment of a food manufacturer’s adherence to the Brand Reputation Compliance Global Standard. A third-party certification body organisation, approved by BRCGS, will carry out the audit.
To be prepared and ready for an audit, an organisation will need to have their Quality Management System (QMS) set up and in place, together with 3 months’ worth of records that can be audited.
The 12 essential record requirements of BRCGS are:
- Senior management commitment and continual improvement statement.
- The food safety plan – HACCP.
- Internal audits.
- Management of suppliers of raw materials and packaging.
- Corrective and preventive actions.
- Layout, product flow and segregation.
- Housekeeping and hygiene.
- Management of allergens.
- Control of operations.
- Labelling and pack control.
- Training: raw material handling, preparation, processing, packing and storage areas.
If the QMS, procedures and controls are not implemented correctly an organisation will automatically fail the audit for not complying with fundamental requirements of the standard.
An organisation will also fail the audit if the auditor doesn’t have enough records to confirm that the site is compliant against the requirements. So full understanding of the standards and preparation are crucially important.
Why is BRCGS important?
Food safety is of critical importance when working in the food supply chain. The BRCGS for Food Safety certification gives a brand an internationally recognised mark of food quality, safety and responsibility.
According to BRCGS:
- 70% of the top global retailers accept or specify BRCGS.
- 50% of the top 25 global manufacturers specify or are certified to BRCGS.
- 60% of the top 10 global quick-service restaurants accept or specify BRCGS.
It is considered to be a benchmark practice in the food industry and its acceptance and significance at the global level empower businesses in the food industry to expand across the world all the while adhering to the global quality standards.
BRCGS provides a structured framework to ensure and manage product safety, integrity and legal compliance as well as quality. It helps in streamlining the management of operational activities including the food and food ingredient manufacturing, processing and packaging, as well as packaging materials.
What are the benefits of BRCGS certification?
Independent research, carried out by the University of Birkbeck, demonstrates that organisations operating to BRCGS standards improve food safety, operational efficiency, commercial growth, improved profitability and broad-based innovation.
Their research found that the benefits included:
- Food Safety Improvements – 80% claim certification improved production and distribution of safe food. With 40% experiencing a reduction in food recalls.
- Innovation Advances – Certification kick-starts modernisation, with investment in technology, staff, product development processes and equipment to better deliver safe food – 30% benefited from product innovation.
- Commercial Success – BRCGS certification helped 50% of businesses grow in their domestic market, and 60% grow overseas. Sites with BRCGS certification averaged +7.5% sales uplift and +6% average increase in profitability. The attainment of BRCGS certification opens up market opportunities, especially in export markets and with new customers.
- Operational Efficiencies – 70% say certification had positive impacts on productivity and 63% on improved production. These sites outperformed other Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) programmes and non-GFSI standards.
Brands can take advantage of the BRCGS certification, using it as a positive marketing tool to show customers that the product they are purchasing is protected by quality packaging and is compliant with food safety regulations.
Brands can choose to display the BRCGS Certificated logo on public-facing materials, such as packaging, websites and online content and marketing materials. Companies that hold a BRCGS certification appear in the BRCGS Directory, giving further recognition to brand owners that use the system.
The purpose of BRCGS is for organisations to follow proven practices, ensure quality, and build confidence in the supply chain. It helps not only to ensure product safety and quality but also to enhance protection should an organisation ever face any charges by the enforcement authorities.