As food safety certification is becoming a prerequisite for food businesses throughout the world, one of the first decisions is which food safety standard should I choose? In the first place it is recommended to choose as food safety scheme that is widely recognized by selecting a food safety management standard that has been ‘benchmarked’ by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).


Two such GFSI approved schemes which are recognized worldwide and particularly popular in Europe are IFS Food Standard for auditing quality and food safety of food products and BRC Global Standard for Food Safety. IFS Food is a standard for auditing food safety and quality of processes and products of food manufacturers. BRC Global Standard for Food Safety sets out the requirements for food companies involved in processing of foods and preparation of primary products.


Both the IFS and BRC standards are retailer driven and strangely enough both IFS Food and the BRC Standard current editions are issue or version 6. The BRC Standard for Food Safety was originally published in 1998 the current version was published in July 2011. IFS Food was launched in 2003 and is current version 6 was published in January 2012. The BRC standard has nearly 14,000 certified sites in over 100 countries around the world. IFS Food issued over 11,000 certificates in 90 different countries in 2011.


Both IFS and BRC identify 10 key elements where failure to comply would result in a failed audit and non-certification. BRC refers to these as ‘Fundamental’ requirements whilst IFS has specific requirements which are designated as ‘Knock Out’ requirements (KO). Not surprisingly there are several common Fundamental of Knock Out clauses to both the BRC and IFS standards. These are senior management responsibility/commitment, food safety plan/monitoring CCP’s, internal audits, corrective action and traceability. BRC clause housekeeping and hygiene is a fundamental requirement whilst IFS differs in that personnel hygiene is a knock out clause.


There are a few differences, IFS lists recipe compliance as a knock out whereas, BRC specifies Control of operations as a fundamental requirement which covers recipes but is more demanding in its requirements for specified processing and operation conditions such as time and temperature for cooking. Of the other fundamental BRC requirements there is training, management of allergens, layout flow and segregation. In IFS Food the other knock out requirements are raw material specifications are foreign material management and procedures for withdrawal and recall.


The BRC Standard for Food Safety Issue 7 requirements are split into seven sections, IFS Food requirements are split into six sections.


Section 1 in both the BRC and IFS standard covers requirements of the Senior Management in terms of commitment, responsibility, policies, organisation structure and review. IFS Food places a little more emphasis on policies which as well as the obvious food safety and quality also require Senior Management to adopt environmental, sustainability, ethics and personnel responsibilities.


Both BRC and IFS require implementation of a HACCP system based on Codex Alimentarius principles in section 2. BRC has a requirement for specific prerequisite programmes in this section. IFS Food specifies Quality and Food Safety Management System requirements in section 2 whereas BRC Issue 7 section 3 specifies the minimum requirements for a documented Food Safety and Quality Management System. Section 3 of BRC also includes requirements for internal audits, supplier & material controls, corrective action, control of non-conforming product traceability, complaint handling, management of incidents and recalls. IFS section 3 covers Resource Management including human resources, personnel hygiene, protective clothing, contractors and visitors, procedures for infectious diseases, training and staff facilities.


Section 4 of both BRC and IFS prescribe expected site standards for ‘good manufacturing practices’ such as cleaning, maintenance, waste control, pest control, storage, transport and requirements for satisfactory factory design & construction standards, plant layout and product flow. BRC section 4 is titled Site Standards also includes hygiene & housekeeping requirements which IFS mainly covers in section 3. IFS section 4 is titled Planning and Production Process which as well as the good manufacturing practices mentioned has requirements for contract agreement, specifications, product development, purchasing, traceability and allergen management.


BRC Section 5 Product Control prescribes expected product controls including product development, packaging, inspection product release and management of allergens. Section 5 of IFS Food, Measurements, Analysis, Improvements covers requirements for internal audits, inspections process validation, calibration, quantity checking, product analysis, product quarantine, product release, management of complaints, management of incidents, product recall, management of non-conformities and corrective actions.


Section 6 of IFS covers Food defense and external inspections with requirements for defense assessment, site security, security and external inspections. BRC Section 6 prescribes process control requirements including control of operations, quantity control and calibration of instruments.


Section7 of BRC is titled Personnel has requirements for personal hygiene, protective clothing, medical screening and training.


Overall both BRC and IFS Food Safety standards are well established in the UK and Europe being driven over the years by major retailers and both are extremely creditable given that they are benchmarked by GFSI. There is a difference in the auditing reporting in that an IFS Food Audit result is reported as a total score percentage with greater than 95 % being the top level where as in a BRC audit the top grade is A. In addition to this BRC has an option of unannounced audits which are conducted at a random date as opposed to a pre-arranged audit. This scheme is viewed as giving a better indication of the day to day standards operated by the organisation. Sites successfully certified against the unannounced audit programme can achieve grade A+, the highest grade awarded by BRC.


Ultimately certification to either the IFS Food Standard or the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety will provide credibility and emphasises that an organisation is serious about food safety and quality. As part of the process of choosing which certification would be of most benefit it is a good idea to consult key customers and take their preferences into account.