Originally developed and published in 1998, the British Retail Consortium’s Global Standard for Food Safety (GSFS) is a globally-accepted food safety standard that specifies safety, quality and operational criteria for food producers and suppliers. The goal of the Standard is to help food producers meet all legal compliance requirements and to protect consumers from unsafe food. In this article, we will discuss the important changes represented in the latest version of the Standard, Issue 7, which became mandatory as of 1st July 2015.
The BRC began working on Issue 7 of the GSFS in early 2014. For the first time in the Standard’s history, the BRC invited certification bodies including TÜV SÜD Management Service GmbH to participate in the development of the new version of the Standard and to join working group sessions of the Standard’s technical advisory committee. Other participants in the working groups included international stakeholders representing food manufacturers, retailers, food service companies and independent technical experts.
Issue 7 of the Standard was published in January 2015, following a nearly year-long effort. GSFS Issue 7 took effect on 1 July 2015, with no transition period between Issue 6 and Issue 7. All certificates based on audits conducted prior to 1 July 2015 based on Issue 6 are valid for the period specified on the certificate.
Summary of the key changes
The primary focus of attention in the development of GSFS Issue 7 was on the creation of additional voluntary modules. These additional modules were designed to minimise the overall audit burden, reduce the susceptibility to fraud, achieve greater transparency and traceability in the supply chain, and improve food safety at small sites which are still in development.
Specific changes in GSFS Issue 7 are discussed in the sections that follow.
Guidelines for defining production risk zones
The GSFS identifies a number of different risk zones within food processing and storage facilities, with corresponding requirement levels of hygiene and segregation to reduce the potential for product contamination. A decision tree provides guidance to assigning appropriate risk zones to a given area. Risk zones now include:
- High-risk areas (chilled and frozen)
- High-care areas (chilled and frozen)
- Ambient high-care areas
- Low-risk areas
- Enclosed product areas (e.g., warehouses and storerooms)
- Non-product areas (e.g., canteens, laundries and offices)
Two new risk zones, ambient high-care areas and non-product areas, were introduced with the publication of GSFS Issue 7, resulting in a total of six different risk zone classifications that can be applied.
Grading – new grade levels and nomenclature
The objective of this modification is to accord greater exclusivity to the highest grades and to record the more relevant non-conformities in greater detail. The new and modified grading levels include:
- Grade AA—the highest grade, awarded in cases in which not more than 5 minor non-conformities are identified
- Grade A—awarded in those cases in which 6–10 minor non-conformities are identified
- Grade B—awarded in cases in which 11–16 minor non-conformities are identified
- Grade C—awarded when 17–24 minor non-conformities are identified
- Grade D—for cases in which 25–30 minor non-conformities are identified
Grades for unannounced audits are now also highlighted by the “+” symbol which is attached to the respective grade.
Exclusions from the certification scope
Under the requirements of GSFS Issue 7, products which are manufactured at one site may only be excluded from the
certification scope if:
- The excluded products are clearly differentiated from products included within the certification scope; and
- The products are produced in a physically separate area of the factory.
The audit report has also been modified to include a new section in which the reasons for any exclusions must be clearly stated. In contrast to Issue 6 of the Standard, it is no longer possible to exclude products manufactured on different production equipment but within the same production area under the requirements of Issue 7. The use of the term “minority of products” has also been removed as the term is not clearly defined, and could lead to differing interpretations.
Changes to the BRC Global Markets programme
In order to accommodate small suppliers and production or storage sites that are still developing or implementing their food safety management systems, the BRC Global Markets programme now provides audits at three different levels, as follows:
- Basic level—This level is closely aligned to the requirements of the GFSI Global Markets programme
- Intermediate level—This level is closely aligned to the higher requirements of the GFSI Global Markets programme
- Full BRC certification
Audits carried out in accordance with the basic and intermediate levels of the BRC Global Markets programme generally follow the same rules as a full assessment, with the following exceptions:
- The audit is restricted to the clauses applicable at that level;
- The audit duration is shorter, reflecting the reduced number of requirements being audited;
- Non-conformities must be satisfactorily addressed and closed out within not more than 90 days (for sites that have already reached the basic or intermediate level, the maximum time allowed for closing out non-conformities is 28 days);
- No grade is given for sites audited at the basic or intermediate level. These sites either “pass” or “fail” the audit.
- The audit report clearly differs from a full BRC audit report;
- The customer receives a statement that the requirements of the respective level have been met. This statement is unmistakably and clearly differentiated from a BRC certificate;
- The audit report is entered into the publicly-available BRC database, but in a different area than the audit reports concerning
Detailed requirements and specifications for basic and intermediate level audits were published at the end of February 2015.
There are a number of additional changes in Issue 7, Part II requirements, including for example:
- Product authenticity and claims, which are specified in greater detail;
- Management of suppliers of raw materials and packaging, as well as specific requirements for agents and brokers;
- Management of outsourced processing and packaging/approval of subcontractors.
BRC Participate is a subscription-based, online information management system allowing access to all the content produced by the BRC, including BRC Global Standards, interpretation guidelines, supporting publications, webinars, case studies, industry white papers, social media posts and more. BRC Participate also provides access to an online discussion forum that allows subscribers to address specific issues and questions related to GSFS Issue 7.
Annual subscriptions to BRC Participate are available to certified sites, food manufacturers seeking certification, and other groups involved with BRC Global Standards such as buyers, certification bodies, trainers and consultants. You will need to register with the service in order to purchase a subscription. More information is available at www.brcparticipate.com.
TÜV SÜD auditors and trainers are fully briefed on the changes in GSFS Issue 7, as well as other internationally-accepted food safety standards. For additional information about TÜV SÜD’s GSFS certification and auditing services, contact firstname.lastname@example.org