IFS audits can now also be performed partially remotely. IFS Broker audits can even take place completely remotely. This new regulation applies regardless of how the COVID-19 pandemic develops. In the following we present the new IFS regulations.

Background

When the COVID-19 - pandemic broke out, many IFS certification audits could not take place due to travel restrictions. Conducting audits remotely was not an option because certification rules did not allow it. IFS then developed a new, optional procedure: the Remote Surveillance Check. However, the Remote Surveillance Check did not result in an accredited certificate. However, this is exactly what many sites needed.

Then, in June 2020, the GFSI specifications were adapted, which now allow for a better, permanent solution in terms of remote audits. In this context, it becomes clear why the IFS will only now accept remote audits.

Remote audits for the IFS Broker standard

The first standard that can be audited remotely is the IFS Broker. Sites certified to the IFS Broker standard can request a remote audit. The remote audit replaces the annual on-site audit. Performing an IFS Broker audit remotely is not mandatory and can be performed by agreement between the site and the certification body. The remote audit option only applies to announced audits and is ideally performed by the same auditor who conducted the last surveillance audit or initial audit.

As a pioneer in the field of remote audits, DQS is now ready to perform audits according to the IFS Broker Standard remotely.

Split audits for the other IFS standards

As other IFS standards (IFS Food, IFS PACsecure, IFS HPC, IFS Logistics, ...) focus more on good manufacturing practices, it will not be possible to perform certification audits completely remotely. Auditors will still need to visit the site on-site. However, IFS is considering the possibility of a split audit, where only a portion of the total audit time is spent on site. The other portion would be a remote audit.

Unlike BRCGS and FSSC 22000, IFS requires that the on-site portion of the audit be completed before beginning the remote audit. This allows the auditor to get a better overview of the company's products, processes and facilities.

Again, it should be emphasized that the split audit is optional and must be agreed upon between the site and the certification body. The certification body must assess whether conducting part of the audit remotely poses a risk to the effectiveness of the audit. Only sites with a positive risk assessment can conduct partial audits remotely.

Performing IFS Split Audits - Here's how it works

The on-site portion of the IFS Split Audit can be announced and unannounced. The unannounced version gives organizations the opportunity to comply with the GFSI requirement that every third IFS audit must be unannounced.

For the on-site portion, only those employees responsible for ensuring smooth operations and compliance with regulatory and customer requirements in production and related areas need to be present. In the subsequent remote part of the IFS split audit, fixed appointments are made to conduct the interviews with the relevant employees* who were not on-site during the evaluation.

The on-site audit is supplemented by the remote part. This includes the review of further documented information and a thorough cross-checking of documentation and records.

The remote audit must take place within 14 days of the on-site portion. The certification body and the audited company must set a mutually convenient date so that all employees or members of management with whom the auditor still needs to speak are available.

Planning and preparation of the IFS Split audit

You need to take the following steps to plan an IFS Split Audit:

  • Companies planning an IFS Split Audit should clarify in advance with their customers whether a certificate based on the IFS Split Audit will be accepted.
  • Subsequently, the company to be certified and the certification body must carry out a risk assessment to determine whether an IFS Split Audit is technically possible.
  • The use of information and communication technologies (ICT) during the assessment process requires a written agreement between the company and the certification body.
  • The company to be certified must ensure that all relevant documents and records are available digitally.
  • Find out which requirements are fully assessed on-site and which can be fully or partially assessed remotely. In each Standard and Global Markets Program Checklist, IFS gives companies and auditors clear guidelines for conducting an IFS Split Audit. You can download the checklists here.

Upon completion of the IFS Split Audit, the certification body adds the following sentence to the IFS audit report and IFS certificate: "Part of the assessment was conducted using ICT - Split Assessment". This increases transparency to customers, distributors and other stakeholders.

Author
Dr. Thijs Willaert

Dr. Thijs Willaert is Head of Marketing & Communications for the Sustainability and Food Safety segments. He is also an auditor for the external audit of sustainability reports. His areas of interest include sustainability management, sustainable procurement, and the digitalization of the audit landscape.

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