An IFS certificate is valid for a maximum of 12 months. In order to obtain a new certificate before expiration, an on-site audit must take place. However, in times of COVID-19, such an audit is not possible at some sites. To find out what options affected sites have, see below.

"This certified company can produce a safe product according to customer specifications" - this is the guiding principle from IFS. To stay true to this phrase, the IFS has decided not to introduce a fully remote audit option. This is because, according to the IFS, a remote assessment cannot provide a reliable statement on the points of "hygiene and good manufacturing practice". For sites that cannot allow external people to enter due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this attitude leads to difficulties in maintaining IFS certification. IFS is aware of this and for this reason has published a document explaining the IFS approach to COVID-19.

What to do if an on-site audit cannot take place?

If the standard procedure cannot be followed, the IFS recommends the following steps be followed:

1. Review on a case-by-case basis

IFS will not renew the IFS certificate if a scheduled recertification audit is not possible. In this case, IFS strongly recommends that the company whose certificate is expiring contact its customers and the certification body to discuss how to handle the situation.

2. Transparency in the IFS database

IFS supports this process by providing the necessary transparency about the status of the IFS certificate in the IFS database. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, IFS implemented a COVID-19 notification feature in the IFS database to identify audits that did not occur and were postponed due to COVID-19. COVID-19 notification is performed by the certification body responsible for the audit. This provides visibility into certificates and audits affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

3. Risk assessment by IFS Remote Surveillance Check

In the event that a certificate expires, IFS recommends that suppliers and customers conduct a risk assessment and, based on this, decide how to maintain cooperation and the supply chain. Another important point to consider when conducting the risk assessment is the fundamental consideration of whether the supplier-customer collaboration can continue without an IFS certificate. Important factors that should be included in this consideration are the number of recalls, the quality of the cooperation and many other points that only suppliers and customers can answer together.

The IFS certificate is an important part of the cooperation, but it is not the only criterion for whether a supplier relationship works. After a thorough risk assessment, it is possible to add a COVID-19 notification to an expiring certificate. The expired certificate will still be visible.

Additionally, IFS offers an IFS Remote Surveillance Check tool for this risk assessment. This is a voluntary option that is not accredited or recognized by the GFSI. This involves reviewing key management system documents on a remote basis.

4. Unannounced GMP check

The critical issue of whether a manufacturer can produce a safe product to customer specifications remains the focus of good manufacturing practices and hygiene in food production. The vast majority of food manufacturers have maintained production during the COVID-19 pandemic. Raw materials are delivered and outside personnel have access to production facilities to maintain equipment or perform pest control activities. Therefore, it is generally possible for facilities to be inspected, taking the necessary precautions. In such cases, an auditor may also make a visit to see production facilities and to verify that the principles of good manufacturing practice and hygiene are being observed.

For this purpose, IFS offers an unannounced GMP Check. It is a voluntary option, not accredited and not recognized by the GFSI, to check compliance with good manufacturing practice and hygiene in production. The GMP Check answers the question of whether production is safe. To perform an unannounced GMP Check of the IFS, only the personnel in the production area need to be present, as well as the employees who manage the production. The unannounced GMP check is a possible option when a full IFS certification audit cannot take place, e.g. because crucial employees* work from home with access to documents and records.

5. Evaluation of IFS certification

Once normal audits and certification to IFS standards/programs are possible, IFS strongly recommends that a full IFS certification audit be conducted.

The full document on the IFS approach to COVID-19 can be viewed here.

Full information on the IFS remote audit options can be found here.

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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