The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is a GFSI-benchmarked scheme popular throughout Europe, with some U.S.-based food and beverage companies holding certificates. While 65% of registered sites are located in Europe, 11% are located in the U.S., making it a fairly common food safety scheme for North American processors and manufacturers. If your company is preparing for a BRC audit and is wondering what to expect, this brief guide will serve as a helpful resource.
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BRC certification is a food safety standard that demonstrates a food and beverage company’s commitment to industry best practices. To obtain and maintain certification, companies undergo third-party audits against the standard’s requirements performed by an accredited certification body (CB).
Currently, there are more than 30,000 certified suppliers located across 130 different nations. Since its inception in 1998, the BRC Food Safety Standard has undergone eight revisions and is now a widely utilized framework for promoting benchmarking to the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).
Recently, the BRC released their latest Standard - Issue 9 - which includes a few changes to their requirements, enforceable as of February 2023. The BRC standard for food safety is separated into nine core sections:
- Senior management commitment
- Food safety plan (HACCP)
- Food safety and quality management system
- Site standards
- Product control
- Process control
- High-risk, high-care, and ambient high-care production risk zones
- Requirements for traded products
The food safety certification is ideal for food manufacturers, suppliers of raw materials and ingredients, and packaging facilities.
What Is a BRC Audit?
The BRC audit is the BRC’s assessment of a company’s adherence to its standards of food safety. During the audit, an auditor from an accredited CB will thoroughly assess your food manufacturing facility, looking at records, documentation and process documentation across the nine core areas of operations listed above.
Why Is BRC Important?
Becoming GFSI-certified has a number of benefits. It helps to implement a consistent, measurable program for mitigating risks, and may also help to secure contracts with key customers. And, since many customers are confident in the competence of the BRC CBs to conduct thorough audits, it may prevent your company from experiencing “audit fatigue.” Being certified in a GFSI scheme can also aid in compliance of the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
BRC certification in particular boasts the following key benefits.
BRC certification showcases your company’s diligence and abilities to overall safey programs. It demonstrates a commitment to the highest standards of food safety, quality, and continuous improvement. As such, it can increase customer confidence in your supply chain management and operations.
Being that BRC is one of the largest GFSI schemes in the world, you’ll have access to an international network of trained CBs, making certification simpler to navigate.
While there are costs associated with any certification, most food and beverage companies find that the benefits make the investment worthwhile for BRC.
What Does BRC Focus On?
As mentioned above, there are nine key areas of focus emphasized under the latest version of BRC’s food safety standard, issue 8. Here’s a closer look at how auditors will assess your facility against each pillar.
Senior management commitment
Auditors will look for senior managers who are actively working to implement food safety processes and continuously improve upon them.
Food safety plan (HACCP)
HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) is an essential component of the food safety standard which plays an important role in risk mitigation and identification. It is a systematic approach to the identification, evaluation, and control of food safety hazards based on seven principles.
Food safety and quality management system
During your audit, you’ll need to show detailed documentation to illustrate the effective processes and management activities that are in place to promote safe food production.
Companies are expected to and maintain a safe, clean site for food handling and production.
Controls should be in place for initiatives such as allergen management and product testing.
Auditors will look to see that your facility’s HACCP plan is followed routinely and effectively to promote quality.
Employees are expected to be well-trained, wearing the proper equipment, and exercising behaviors for proper hygiene.
High-risk, high-care, and ambient high-care production risk zones
You’ll need to show an auditor that any particularly at-risk products are protected by control measures to reduce the likelihood of contamination.
Requirements for traded products
Any facilities which purchase and sell traded products should demonstrate safe practices for handling, processing, and packaging them to reduce risk of contamination.
How Do I Prepare for a BRC Audit?
As with pursuing any type of GFSI certification, you can prepare your facility by making sure your recordkeeping practices are current and effective. Here are some additional tips for navigating BRC audit prep.
1. Perform a self-assessment.
Self-assessments are effective ways to catch any food safety or quality issues before auditors do. You can uncover gaps during an audit performed by an independent third party, or use a food safety management system such as SafetyChain to hold an internal assessment.
2. Choose a CB.
Next, find a CB using the BRC’s directory. Select one that seems like it will be a good fit for your facility.
3. Set a date.
Once you’ve chosen an auditor, the next step is to schedule the audit. Be mindful of key considerations, such as which staff members should be present, and what time frame is best based on your operations and time of year. Additionally, remember that re-audits will be held six months or one year after your certification score is released.
4. Get senior management involved.
As discussed above, senior management is expected to play a key role in BRC compliance. Your leadership team should therefore be present during the opening and closing meetings, at the very least.
5. Ensure all documents are readily available.
Auditors will need to review your HACCP plan as well as other key documentation supporting your food safety program. You won’t want to be digging through filing cabinets and binders with the auditor present, so make sure all of your information is gathered in advance. Food safety audit systems keep your facility ready for audits 24/7 by centralizing all of your records in a single place.
6. Assess your traceability.
Traceability is a core principle in GFSI programs, so an auditor will likely perform traceability tests during their assessment. Be sure to do the same during your practice audit to ensure preparedness.
What to Expect from a BRC Audit
Typically, BRC audits take place over two to three days. The opening meeting will outline the precise breakdown of activities that will take place while the auditor is present. Here’s a general look into what you can expect to be assessed during that period.
- Demonstration of Continuous Improvement: When non-conformities are identified, auditors will seek root cause analyses as proof that the same issues will not keep happening. A quick fix will raise concerns among auditing parties, so be sure to address any issues thoroughly.
- HACCP & PRP Review: Your entire HACCP team should routinely review and reassess CCPs to verify the effectiveness of your food safety plan. Auditors will seek proof that the HACCP plan is frequently reviewed and updated, which is why having a robust and precise record keeping system is so critical for GFSI-certified facilities.
- Audits & Corrective/Preventive Actions: As with any GFSI scheme, BRC requires food and beverage companies to audit their own processes to achieve ongoing performance. Corrective actions must be in place to respond to non-conformities.
- Facility Layout/Product Flow: While layout is typically not a concern in updated or new facilities, older plants may be at risk of violations. Traffic flow should be optimized according to BRC standards to prevent issues like cross-contamination. High-risk zones are of critical importance, so to prepare for your audit, focus on these areas first and foremost.
- Continual Training: Continual cross-training should be provided to permanent employees to provide an understanding of not only how food safety plans are carried out in the facility, but also why. Hands-on classes, for instance, provide effective training opportunities for appropriate personnel.
- Allergen Labeling & Handling: Lastly, BRC auditors will check to ensure allergen raw materials are properly stored, labeled, and handled throughout the production line.
There will also be a closing meeting during which the findings of the audit will be reviewed.
Preparing for a BRC audit will require time and effort. Nonetheless, BRC certification offers many advantages for competitive food and beverage companies. To learn more about preparing for GFSI audits, including the new wave of remote audits, be sure to check out our free video and e-guide.
SafetyChain is the Digital Plant Management Platform trusted by over 2,000 process manufacturing facilities to unite operations, quality, and compliance teams by delivering real-time operational visibility and control that dramatically increases yield, productivity, and operator performance. Learn more at https://safetychain.com.