GFSI has published version 2020 of the Benchmarking Requirements and this brings a significant change: unannounced audits have become mandatory for GFSI-recognized standards. We took a closer look at this requirement and summarize all the important information for you below.

The Global Food Safety Initiative was launched in 2000 with the goal of finding collaborative solutions to collective food safety concerns. One of GFSI's goals is to harmonize certification systems. For this purpose, GFSI has developed so-called Benchmarking Requirements, which are used to ensure comparability between different standards.

Standard setters such as IFS, BRCGS and FSSC 22000 have implemented these requirements and are recognized by GFSI. In order to continue to maintain recognition, it is necessary for standard setters to implement new/changed GFSI requirements in their own standard in a timely manner.

With the new GFSI version 2020, IFS & BRCGS certified sites are now facing a significant change: unannounced audits have become mandatory.

Unannounced IFS audits

IFS has already published doctrines for several standards in which this new requirement is implemented. A doctrine is a normative document that must be followed in addition to the requirements in the standard. For the following standards, a doctrine has been published requiring mandatory use of the unannounced audit option once every three years:

IFS Food, IFS Logistics & IFS PACsecure.

As of January 1, 2021, at least every third certification audit for these standards must be unannounced. This option is preferred for recertification audits but can also be used for initial certifications.

To register for an unannounced audit, the company must notify its certification body at least before the start of the audit window (see below). This applies both to companies that have the same certification body and to companies that change certification bodies. If the company does not notify the certification body before the start of the audit time window, the "Unannounced" option cannot be selected.

For IFS Food and IFS PACsecure, the audit period can be postponed in exceptional cases and in consultation with the certification body. However, it must be borne in mind here that the validity of the certificate may be shorter. Possible certification gaps are addressed between the site and the certification body before registration.

If the certification cycle is interrupted at a time when an unannounced audit should take place, the next certification audit (= initial audit) must be unannounced.

Unannounced audits at BRCGS

BRCGS has also published a position statement that makes the introduction of unannounced audits mandatory for the standards BRCGS Food Safety Issue 8, BRCGS Packaging Materials Issue 6 and BRCGS Storage & Distribution Issue 4. At least one unannounced audit must now be conducted within three years.

Schedule

For Food Safety and Packaging Materials audits, this regulation applies since February 1, 2021 and for Storage and Distribution Issue 4 it was May 1, 2021.

The rule only affects sites that use an announced audit program; sites that already use an unannounced audit program are not affected by the new rule.

Whether the next audit will be announced or unannounced will be communicated by the certification body after the certificate has been issued. The discussion between the certification body and the site must take place within three months of the last audit.

The unannounced audit can take place within four months prior to the audit due date. This includes the 28 days prior to the audit due date. After the due date, the audit will not occur unless there are exceptional circumstances. Audits will only occur on weekdays during normal site operations unless other arrangements have been made with the site in advance.

The site may block a maximum of 10 days when audits cannot take place. Sites that are audited every six months can block a maximum of 5 days. In order to block a day, there must be a legitimate reason, such as a customer visit for a scheduled initial production involving technical staff and managers. The absence of a specific employee is not a reason for a non-audit day. Dates and reasons must be communicated to the certification body at least 4 weeks in advance.

You can view the position statement here. In it you will also find detailed information regarding the audit process.

Unannounced audits FSSC 22000

In this standard, unannounced audits were already mandatory every three years. Since version 4, at least one of the two surveillance audits must be unannounced. Therefore, no changes have to be expected for this standard.

Author
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.

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