When BRCGS published their price increases in June, they indirectly announced that the Additional Voluntary Module 12 for Gluten Free was to be dropped from 1st August 2020.
This got us thinking about why this module was being dropped and this train of thought, took us down a rabbit hole… We’ll explain why.
So, why has this module been dropped?
Our first thought was that it may be due to insufficient uptake of the module. There are as of June 2020, 258 sites worldwide who have this module. Not a great amount, but some.
Then we realised that, as well as there currently being a voluntary module for gluten free, there’s also a certification programme for gluten free. We’re not sure when this was published by BRCGS, but this is the first time we’ve really noticed it – which we thought was odd.
So where has this come from?
Having looked into this, the BRCGS website says that the Gluten Free Certification Programme is on it’s third issue and was published originally in 2009. So, that’s even more strange – that it’s been around for over 10 years and we’ve not even noticed it.
However, after quite a lot of digging – we think we’ve worked it out.
Back in 2018 BRC bought a company called the Allergen Control Group Inc, who were based in Toronto, Canada. Allergen Control Group were the owner of the Gluten Free Certification Programme.
Clearly, BRCGS have taken this Standard, put it into their branding and put it on the website. So, although we’re still not sure when it was first put there, we suspect it’s not been long.
What’s the difference between them?
The voluntary module has to be bolted on to the Food Safety Standard, it cannot be done in isolation. The certification programme for gluten free, can be done on its own. It has its own Standard – just like the Food Safety Standard. But when you look at it – it’s a very much watered down version of food.
So, it makes sense that they shouldn’t have two products – a voluntary module and a certification programme that do the same thing. Plus, there was probably a conflict of interest too, as the module was written collaboratively with AOECS, who are a European ‘version’ of the Allergen Control Group.
New certification programmes
Historically, we’ve always had 5 main certification programmes:
- Food Safety
- Storage & Distribution
- Agents & Brokers
- Consumer Products
But over the years BRCGs have published:
- Gluten Free (????)
- Retail (2016)
- Ethical Trading (2019)
- Plant Based (2020)
Having looked at the Gluten Free Standard, we noticed that the way it’s laid out is very different to the main Standards like Food Safety.
Although the 5 main Standards are not laid out exactly the same (which some may say would be sensible) they all have strong themes. Typically we have about 7 sections, plus traded products.
Section 2 is always HACCP and Personnel always comes last. The names of the main sections and the subsections are either the same, or very similar; Complaint-handling or Complaint Handling for example. So, you can link them together quite easily.
However, the new Standards seems to have been written by groups of people with completely free rein to chop everything up however it suits them.
Here are the sections for Gluten Free:
- Senior leadership commitment (no idea why we’ve switched management to leadership!)
- Prerequisite programmes
- Gluten controls
- HACCP principles
- GFSM maintenance and reassessment
- Internal audits
And if you think that’s crazy, take a look at the sections for Plant Based:
- Senior management commitment
- The food safety plan – HACCP
- PBMS maintenance and reassessment
- Documentation and records
- Internal audits
- Supplier and ingredients/inputs approval and performance monitoring
- Ingredient and input receipt acceptance
- Suppliers of services
- Complaint handling
- Product recall and withdrawal
- Product development
- Approval and control of labels
- Product authenticity, claims and chain of custody
- Marketing claims
- Cross-contamination control
- Control of recipes and formulations
- Segregation and disposal of obsolete and waste material
- Plant-based awareness training
So, if you’re working to the Food Safety Standard and also one of these Standards, then you’ve got to match up the sections and compare and contrast the clauses to see what’s missing or additional.
Why do they have to make it so complicated?
Behind the scenes at Techni-K
Over the past two years we’ve been busy keeping up with the changes in the Standards. In 2018 when Issue 8 was published we updated our documentation packs to the new Standard and developed a Conversion Course from scratch. Last year, in 2019, we created packs for every section of the new Issue 6 Packaging Standard and amended and updated the Conversion Course from Food to Packaging.
Now that the draft of Storage & Distribution Issue 4 has been published, our attention has turned towards getting ready for its publication in November. And during these conversations, we had a bit of a light bulb moment.
When Packaging came out, BRC had put culture into the Senior Management Commitment Section, but left out whistleblowing. So, we took our Senior Management Commitment pack for Food and chopped out whistleblowing so that it worked for Packaging. Seemed a bit crazy, as surely whistleblowing applies to any product or company, but hey ho.
In readiness for Storage & Distribution Issue 4, where both whistleblowing and culture have been added in, we were talking about taking the Food pack and adapting it for Storage & Distribution. And, here’s where we had a brain wave.
Why not create one pack for Senior Management Commitment that meets the requirements for all 4 Standards? Obvious right? Now we look back – it’s totally obvious.
So, we’ve taken all 4 BRCGS Standards and we’re working our way through combining them, to create one Combined Standard. And from this, we’re going to create packs that meet all the Standards, rather than reworking 4 sets of packs each time.
As you can imagine this isn’t an easy task, but the more we work on it the more it makes sense.
For example, in the Storage & Distribution section there is a section about vehicle management. Which doesn’t appear in the other Standards, even though it’s relevant. Some Food and Packaging sites do have their own vehicles and so why would this not be included?
In the Packaging Standard there is a section about artwork control. Which applies to Food and to Agents & Brokers too.
While working our way through this mind bending task, we decided to also try something revolutionary. We’ve taken all of the topics of the Standards and we’ve grouped them so they make sense.
The result of which means we now have 18 topics, as follows:
- Senior management commitment
- Document management
- Continuous improvement
- Contingency planning
- Hazard analysis
- Contamination control
- Product development
- Supplier management
- Inspection and testing
- Product defence
- Site standards
- High risk facilities
- Process control
- Storage and distribution
By having this Combined Standard, it means that we can now logically file all of the requirements, for all of the Standards.
Typically, the Food Safety Standard drives the changes and the other 3 Standards follow over the next 3 years. So, by updating them once, it means that our packs and training will always be ahead of the game. So, if you want to work to best practice and not be chasing your tail every time the Standard changes, we’ve got you covered.
So, why mention this?
Well this approach, we believe means that no matter how many Standards BRCGS publish and no matter how they decide to structure them, we can always bring them back into alignment.
Is that one day, BRCGS do this themselves. Work out one structure and stick to it. And, where the Standards can be the same, do that. It seems crazy to us, that the requirements for Senior Management Commitment for example, differ at all across all of the current 9 Standards. Document control, record keeping, recall, internal auditing (and we could go on and on) should all be the same no matter what product or service you’re providing.
We’d love to know what you think about this and our approach. We know that document structure and numbering can be a very contentious topic. So, please add your thoughts to the comments box at the bottom of the article.
We've tagged this article as: BRC audit protocol
If you've enjoyed this post why not try these related articles…
Comparison and gap analysis of BRCGS Food Safety and IFS Food
In this article we start to compare the Standards to understand the amount of work required to move from one to another.
One in three audits to be unannounced from 2021
The changes to the GFSI benchmarking scheme mean that all recognised certificates will need to have at least one unannounced audit every three years.