Have you ever wondered what actually happens in the time between the audit and the finished certificate? How does the process work, what is done and who is involved? Let's take a look behind the scenes together - into the black box of DQS: the certification board.

Only very few people know what actually happens between the audit and the finished certificate. It is therefore time to investigate! And who better to answer this question than our employees. Marina Schwabauer, Karim Soudani and Manuela Seel, all of them long-time and valued employees of the DQS certification board, accompany the transformation of audits into certificates on a daily basis. They give us an insight into what actually happens in the certification body and what challenges come with the job.

"So tell me, the audit is completed. What happens next?"

Marina Schwabauer: Then the auditor sends us a number of documents. In addition to the audit report, we also receive, for example, handwritten notes from the auditor; the schedule of the audit; the draft certificate signed by the customer; the approved calculation; any deviations that were found in the company; the list of participants; the data from the customer and the contract. All this must be received by us, and all these documents must be checked for accuracy by us. The report is of course the most time-consuming part, because it contains the most information.


Karim Soudani: The audit report can be compared to a patient's electrocardiogram: It reflects exactly what is produced in the respective company, and how it is produced. Accordingly, the report is very detailed. We check in advance whether the audit duration complies with the requirements, the basic data is correct and the measures have been closed, before it is forwarded to the technical review. So it's a dual control method. When everything has been processed by us, we send the documents to the technical reviewer, together with a checklist that we have filled out in advance.

Manuela Seel: Exactly, we then archive that in the so-called "Elze". This is a kind of electronic folder in our system. In it, we record exactly who has processed what, which documents are available and where there were queries. In this way, it is possible to track very precisely who did what and when, and when the documents were received or followed up. The electronic folder can only be viewed by employees who have access to the digital archive.

Marina Schwabauer: The technical reviewer then looks to see whether all measures have been closed and all evidence is available. Of course, we have already done that, but it is a matter of dual control. The technical review goes much deeper than our audit and in addition, everything is examined for correctness, as well. It takes 5 to 8 hours on average.

Manuela Seel

Manuela Seel: If questions arise during the technical review, the technical reviewer writes to the auditor directly. As soon as the answer is received, we send the auditor the information that the procedure can be resumed. This can also be tracked in the system.

Marina Schwabauer: The certification decision is made after the technical review. As soon as everything is in order and all questions are clarified, we come back into play - we here in the background, in the certification board. That's when it gets exciting *laughs* - because then we create the certificates and the report, check it for correctness and upload all the documents in the portals. Then the customer can also go in and look at everything.

"What are the biggest challenges in the certification office?"

Marina Schwabauer: Every case is always different and no two companies are alike. Generally, a common issue is that we don't receive documents in a timely manner. What timely means depends on the particular standard: for BRCGS certifications, the deadline is 28 days after the audit. This means that after 28 days the company has closed all discrepancies, sends them to the auditor, who in turn forwards them to us. As a general rule, the fewer queries and requests for documents we have to deal with, the faster we can deliver the report to our clients.

The most frequent problem we have to deal with in the certification board is when the auditor fails to send the documents to us on time. Then we call and see what the problem is. Sometimes, for example, the person is sick and can't get out of bed to write the report, or he or she is abroad and traveling a lot. That's when sometimes the internet connection doesn't play along, which is why the report can't be uploaded. Everyone knows, auditors are on the road a lot. So there are personal and work-related reasons.

If all the documents are available, then half of the work is already done. Then it's our turn to process them. We have a time limit that all documents have to be processed within two days, and then the documents are sent to the technical review. Two weeks are allotted for the technical review. Of course, we at DQS try to get it done faster, ideally about a week, but of course it can happen that work-related or personal reasons influence the processing time.

Manuela Seel: This also brings us directly to the second major challenge in the certification board: deadlines. Particularly with IFS Food 7, the timely upload of documents is a very critical matter, both for the auditors and for our customers and the technical auditors. This is due to the fact that the workload has increased significantly with the revision of the standard. The additional queries are very time-consuming for the auditors, and the customers also find it difficult. IFS has already noticed this and is therefore already working on IFS Food Version 8, but of course we still have to meet the deadlines.

Marina Schwabauer

Marina Schwabauer: That's exactly how it is. My job and that of my colleagues is to keep to the timeline of the respective standards and to get everything done on time. That involves getting in touch with the auditors and the technical reviewers and listening to them. And then we try to manage it so that everything gets done on time.

Many thanks to Manuela Seel, Marina Schwabauer and Karim Soudani for the interview.

Constanze Illner

Constanze Illner (she/her) is Research and Communications Officer in the area of sustainability and food safety. In this position, she keeps an eye on all important developments in this context and informs our clientele in a monthly newsletter. She also moderates the annual Sustainability Heroes conference.