Is BRC right for us?
Your first consideration should be whether is it the right standard for you. Whether you have decided to get a BRC certificate, because you want one or because your customers are pushing for it, you need to be certain it’s the right move for your business. Having a BRC certificate is a sizeable undertaking especially if you are not already working to a similar standard.
How much work is involved?
If you’re already working to a Standard, it’s possible that you have given yourself a head start, but please be aware that the BRC standard is far more in-depth than others. Whilst you may have the framework in place, there will be extra work to do, to complete the building of your BRC QMS (Quality Management System).
To give you an idea of exactly how much there is to do, you might like to know that there are a massive 302 individual requirements in the food standard! Each one of these requirements needs to be met through documentation and practical activities. In order to pass your audit, you need to be able to show that all 302 requirements are being met.
It’s easy to see why the work involved is such a daunting task. However, once you have taken the decision to go ahead with BRCGS certification, you need to ensure that you are working to the correct standard.
Which BRC Standard should I choose?
The Standard that you choose will depend on your business activities and how your business is setup.
The BRC Standards that we specialise in are Food, Packaging, Storage & Distribution and Agents & Brokers.
To help you choose the BRC Standard that’s right for you, we’ve put together a questionnaire that will determine which Standard you should choose.
If your business activities don’t form an exact fit to one specific Standard, don’t worry – our questions will help you discover what you should do.
What are voluntary modules?
You can add voluntary modules to your QMS and audit. Voluntary modules are extra specific requirements that are not applicable to most other sites, so these are designed to be bolted on to your existing Standard for auditing.
For example; retailer modules such as, ASDA can be added on to your audit to save the customer having to come and carry out another audit. The FSMA module is another example of a voluntary module, which means your site will be also audited against this so you can show your customers you are compliant with the FSMA requirements.
If we know what BRC Standard we want, what’s next?
We always recommend that if you are clear about what Standard you want to be audited against, you should obtain a copy of the requirements. It’s important that you do this so you can see what the requirements are, it also gives you a clear understanding of the work involved and the resources you might need to achieve this. You can obtain a copy of the Standards at the BRCGS Bookshop.
You may be confused when you arrive at the Standard page you want, as to why there are different document options to choose from. The main options will be:
The main Standard requirements – provided as a FREE PDF download
These are the full set of requirements containing every clause you need for compliance to the BRC Standard you want to work to.
The Interpretation Guidelines – priced at £125
The interpretation guidelines are a document that support the full set of requirements. These guidelines are intended to provide more detail about the requirements. We always take a detailed look through these guidelines to ensure all of our documentation picks out anything from them that may need including which is not clear from the main requirements.
The Key Changes Document – priced at £60
The key changes document is usually published and intended to be used by sites that are moving their compliance from the previous version of the Standard to the next. We also go through this document to ensure that our training courses and compliance documentation is in line with the changes for sites already accredited to BRC. You can view our training courses here
Voluntary Modules – provided as a FREE PDF download
The voluntary module documentation is required if you have determined that you need these or want to add them. Your customer may provide the documentation for a specific set of retail requirements or you can request anything you can’t find by contacting the BRCGS bookshop for help as not everything is shown on the bookshop website.
Who will carry out our BRC Audit?
You will need to contact a certification body. The certification body is a third-party organisation that you pay to carry out the audit at your site. In order to be a certification body, these organisations need to have been approved by BRCGS.
You can find a list of certification bodies approved by BRCGS and their rating by going to the BRC Directory
Use the search function on this page ‘Find a BRC Certification Body’ on the right-hand side. This allows you to find a certification body that is able to audit to your chosen Standard in your area.
Please note that the star rating shown has no effect on the grade you will achieve on your certificate. It is known that some wholesalers and retailers specify that you are certified by a body that holds a 4- or 5-star rating so you should check this with your customer before you make a decision on who you want to carry out your audit.
At this point, you now need to decide how you want to work. You can contact a certification body straight away and get your audit booked in or, you can do the compliance work before you contact the certification body to give yourself some extra time if you think you’re going to need it. Let’s go straight in and look at the process of contacting the body straight away before the work is ready to be audited.
What information does the certification body need from us?
Your certification body need to know the scope of your audit. This will normally be achieved by completing forms. The scope of your audit must include all of the products you produce, the production method(s) and packaging format(s). It is important to take the time to get this right, as your scope will be on your certificate.
A few words of caution are here:
If during the audit, the auditor realises your scope is wrong, they may have to stop the audit. This is because auditor carrying out your audit have specific areas of knowledge and if they aren’t knowledgeable of all your processes then they will not be able to carry out the audit. For example, if you are a sandwich producer and an auditor is sent on that basis, but then it is discovered that you also smoke your own meats then they will not be able to complete the audit if they have not been trained to audit this. You will still have to pay the certification body and you will have no certificate. So, it is vital that you get your scope right before your audit. If you are ever unsure of your scope, contact your certification body for clarification.
You are able to exclude products and/or parts of the factory from your audit but before you do, you should be aware that if you exclude anything, you will not be able to use the BRC logo on any promotional material, emails, website, lorries, etc. You are also only allowed to exclude products if they can be clearly defined, so it is clear they have not been included in the scope of your activities and that they are produced in a segregated area of the factory i.e. separated by a wall.
What type of audit should we go for?
Your certification body will want to know what type of audit you would like.
There are two types: announced and unannounced. In our experience, it’s always best to choose an announced audit as this means you have a date to work to. If you have a customer that requires you to have an unannounced audit, you can choose this option but be aware that it could be 12 months before you are audited.
Once certificated on an announced audit, you can switch over to an unannounced audit but it must be done within three months of your last certification date.
How does the unannounced audit work?
If you need an unannounced audit you will be given your audit window by the certification body. You are able to nominate 15 non-audit days, when you are not available to audit, but you must ensure that you submit the dates along with the reasons within three months of opting into the unannounced audit.
It is at the discretion of the certification body if any other dates can be added, but they must be submitted at least four weeks prior to the unavailable date. Your certification may challenge additional dates and it’s at their discretion whether they will be accepted.
Days when the site in non-operational will not be included in the 15 days, this includes weekends, bank holidays, planned shutdowns etc. But you must notify your certification body of these circumstances when you enter the unannounced audit programme.
How long will the audit take?
How long the audit will take is calculated using a few different factors.
First, is the size of the site and number of employees.
Next, time is then added on for any HACCP plans the site has over three. This is due to the time it takes to go through each of the plans and confirm compliance against the procedures detailed within each of the plans. Each HACCP will cover a different process, so the auditor needs to review all of the processes that are carried out on site.
Finally, time will also be added on for any additional modules that have been added to your audit.
If you would like to calculate how long your audit would be, you can download the BRC audit duration calculator for the standards below and simply add up the hours.
BRC audit duration calculators
Agents & Brokers
Storage & Distribution (storage and distribution doesn’t have a calculator, so the link takes you page of the standard where it is covered)
How much will the certification body charge us for the audit?
How much your audit costs will be dependent on the certification body you use. The cost will be worked out using the audit calculator to charge you for the number of days necessary plus expenses, such as mileage, hotels, and time for the audit report to be completed. Don’t forget VAT will be added to the cost also.
How do we prepare for our audit and what’s the timescale for this?
To be prepared and ready for your audit, you need to have your QMS setup and in place, together with 3 months’ worth of records that can be audited.
We are often asked ‘How quickly can I get through an audit?’ and unfortunately, there is no specific answer to this. Being audit-ready does depend on a number of factors; such as, the ability of team members and the amount of time and effort that can be given to the body of work required to get the procedures and controls in place.
If your QMS, procedures and controls are not implemented correctly you will automatically fail the audit for not complying with fundamental requirements of the standard. You will also fail the audit if the auditor doesn’t have enough records to confirm that the site is compliant against the requirements.
If you are confident in your systems and documentation you can go straight into your audit. We would advise that you carry out an additional round of internal audits, in order to check yourself against the requirements of the standard that you are working to. It’s a handy exercise as you will be able to identify and remedy any non-conformances before the certification audit takes place.
A word of warning here:
The extra round of internal audits before your certification body audit shouldn’t affect your internal audit schedule, this needs to be kept in place. If you haven’t scheduled your audits and do them all in one go, then wait 12 months to do them all again, you will get a non-conformance at your following audit, as your audit dates need to be spread throughout the year.
Before your audit, it would also be advisable to carry out a traceability test both ways. This will help you to make sure you can achieve the results that are required and that your procedure works. It would also be a good idea, to check that you are comfortable with all of your documentation, so you are able to find procedures quickly during the audit and know where all of your records are located. This will help you not only meet the auditors demands quickly but will keep you feeling calm and confident during your audit.
Can we get help to prepare for our BRC certification audit?
Your certification body may offer the service of a pre-audit but beware, they will not normally give you any advice so you may not be any wiser on how to resolve issues that are raised.
We are able to help with this, as we can recommend a trained consultant who can come and audit your site and offer advice on how to improve on their findings. If you then need extra help or assistance, they can then help you implement any changes needed before your certification audit.
What happens after the certification body have audited us?
Once your audit has been completed, you will have 28 days to close out any non-conformances to the root cause and provide sufficient evidence of these to the certification body.
Your certificate will not be issued until they have reviewed this evidence and confirmed the non-conformances have been closed. Issuing your certificate can take 42 days from the day of your audit.
What grade can we expect to receive?
Depending on how many non-conformances that were raised in your audit, you will get an AA, A, B, C or D grade or a fail. If you have opted to have an unannounced audit there will be a ‘+’ after your grade. The grade will be based on the number and type of non-conformances you receive. The grades are awarded as follows:
- AA is 5 or less minors
- A is between 6 and 10 minors
- B is between 11 and 16 minors or 1 major and up to 10 minors
- C is between 17 and 24 minors, or 1 major and up to 16 minors, or 2 majors and up to 10 minors
- D is between 25 and 30 minors, or 1 major and up to 24 minors, or 2 majors and up to 16 minors
When will we have another audit?
The frequency of your audit will be dependent on the result you achieve.
For grade B or higher, you will be audited every 12 months. For grade C, you will be audited every 6 months. If you get a grade D, you will also be audited every 6 months, but the auditor will return to site within 28 days of the audit to close out the non-conformances raised with you.
Can we get help to go through this entire process?
You’ll be really pleased to know that you don’t have to go through this whole process alone. Here at Techni-K, we specialise in the practical compliance work that is needed to achieve the BRC Standards.
We can recommend the technical expertise and provide the documentation that will help get you ready for your certification audit. We keep a keen eye on all of the Standards we specialise in, and we help you keep up to date and compliant at all times if things change.
We’ve got the experience and resources to save you hundreds of hours as we understand everything that’s required and have ready for you the documentation that your consultant can adapt to your site for compliance.
Consultants can also help advise you on setting up your site layout too, if you’re starting from scratch and are in the process of building your site.
What is the cost of this project likely to be for us?
This is the main question we get asked all the time. It’s really difficult to put an exact price on attaining a BRC Certificate as there are many variables such as, the complexity of your production, the number of products you make, the building you are sited in, the amount of technical expertise you have available and the number of working hours you can dedicate to the project.
We understand all of these factors and can help make your project as cost-effective as possible in terms of getting the work done and providing everything you need to get you to the point where you are ready to be audited.
We always recommend that if you’re trying to work out the costs for your site to become audit-ready, that the best way to do this is to get a site assessment carried out. We can put you in touch with a consultant to arrange an appointment for this. Get in touch by calling 07955 211023 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
A site assessment involves a consultant visiting you for 1-2 days, depending on the size and complexity of your site. They walk the processes and look at your documentation and measure this against the compliance for the Standard you want to work to. They can then advise you on how much work there is to do and then offer their services. What’s also useful to know is that if you’ve got the resources to get the compliance work done, you’ll spend less getting through the work. You’ll find that you’ll only pay for the consultant when you need guidance and advice. There are partuicular aspects of the compliance work that are difficult, but you don’t need to worry about this as the consultants we recommend can help you do this and explain it to you.
We've tagged this article as: BRC audit protocol
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