So this pandemic that started in March 2020 has really disrupted the lives of everyone, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for food safety. Food safety is a priority for customers, specifiers, brand owners and ultimately for consumers.
The challenges that the pandemic brought about were immediate. They occurred very rapidly, they were mostly unknown and they are ever changing. The word, unprecedented, was used a lot over the last year and it was no different in food safety. It was new territory for everyone involved in the food safety chain.
So the new challenges faced by food business operations included supply chain disruptions amongst other things, but it was actually people that were most affected and the importance of staff health was upmost. One major problem for businesses was the lack of staff availability due to staff illnesses, staff self-isolating, a lack of appropriate PPE and staff needing to organise child-care and home schooling.
In fact the lack of PPE was a major issue as there simply wasn’t enough to go around, and businesses couldn’t get it ordered and delivered quick enough. These kinds of issues were impacting sites and their food safety during this pandemic. Even problems with staff getting to work with restrictions in local and national travel, and especially international travel.
So there was a lot of uncertainty over how food sites were supposed to maintain standards. How do you deal with restrictions on who is an essential worker and who is not. Especially when these restrictions and changing all the time, and are different in different regions and dependant on what part of the country you are in.
This has lead to much confusion and some delays and disruption but of course the demand from the public was increasingly for safe food, especially in the retail sector. The pandemic also affected the ability of some prerequisite services to operate like pest control, waste disposal and cleaning agencies. They were in huge demand but with staff on furlough and other challenges the supply chains were challenged.
So the pandemic has created a very clear prerequisite for all of us and that is adapt how you operate your business or risk losing your business altogether. With all of that going on how were you expected to ensure effective oversight of your food safety management system when resources were compromised or, another way of looking at it, with less staff on site how do you ensure that your food safety systems are not at risk.
We know thousands of sites demonstrate their commitment to food safety by getting certificated to a GFSI scheme such as the BRC global food standard and maintaining that certification during the pandemic was not without its challenges.
We have observed over the last 12 months how businesses have adapted to ensure they have maintained food safety and maintained their certification during the pandemic. There are many lessons to be learned from this pandemic and there is still more to be encountered as the pandemic continues its course so of course, these lessons cannot all be covered in this article.
Just focussing on five main areas of discussion, the first is talking about how BRCGS adapted their approach to auditing to ensure all sites had options to maintain their certification where possible. Also going to talk about the use of ICT and digital platforms to help make the audit process feasible for both sites and auditors. We will also take one of the prerequisites, Pest Control Management and discuss some feedback that we had from two pest control companies on their lessons learned and then we can mention briefly some of the known conformances raised during the pandemic just to understand if we’re seeing differences across sites as a result of the new audit approach that were taken at BRCGS. Finally we can discuss the importance of having contingencies for training when face-to-face training is not possible.
In the face of all this, BRCGS adapted their approach to auditing to give sites a set of options to maintain their certification. There was also some good feedback received from the auditors and certification bodies which I will talk about too. BRCGS launched a suite of audit options that took in to account a number of issues like the GFSI’s position and requirements, the account brand, the retailer feedback, the ever changing and evolving local restrictions, and auditor availability. The maturity and the history of the site’s certification was also taken into account.
The following image shows the audit options available to businesses during the pandemic.