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The International Featured Standards (IFS) are “uniform food, product, and service standards that ensure certified companies produce a product or provide a service that complies with customer specifications, while continually working on process improvement.”
There are currently six standards under IFS, including the most recent IFS Food Standard Version 7 (IFS Food V7), which was issued in October 2020. Recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) as a benchmarked standard for auditing food manufacturers, IFS Food focuses on ensuring food safety and quality.
The new IFS Food V7 reduces the number of requirements by 15% and provides additional clarity for auditors when performing an IFS assessment through the following changes:
- Risk-based and less prescriptive approach that allows for customized solutions for company-specific risks and hazards
- New wording that changes “audit” to “assessment” to create consistency with ISO/IEC 17065
- New structure that emphasizes onsite evaluation over documentation
- Better defined scoring system and a more clearly structured assessment report
- Unannounced assessments (every third certification)
- Checklist that aligns with the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements Version 2020, Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and European Union (EU) regulations
- Incorporation of food safety culture into assessments
IFS Food V7 is scheduled for implementation with audits beginning March 1, 2021 and will become mandatory for all certified companies on July 1, 2021.
Focus on Food Safety Culture
One notable change with IFS Food V7 is the incorporation of food safety culture into requirements. This is in line with the addition of food safety culture into GFSI Benchmarking Requirements Version 2020. It also relates directly to one of the core elements of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) New Era of Smarter Food Safety, which promotes food safety culture throughout the food system.
Per IFS, “Food safety culture refers to shared values, beliefs, and norms that affect mindset and behaviour toward food safety in, across, and throughout an organization.”
Informally, food safety culture can be thought of as “the way we do things around here” when it comes to food safety practices. An organization’s food safety culture is ultimately reflected in the way food safety is managed in the workplace. A strong food safety culture creates an atmosphere where everyone in the organization is aware of and helps to prevent any process and/or operational issues and deviations that my impact the safety and/or quality of their products.
Characteristics of a Strong Food Safety Culture
Per IFS Food V7, food safety culture should be driven by four primary elements:
- Communication about food safety policies and responsibilities
- Employee feedback
- Performance measurement
Best-in-class food safety cultures have robust systems in place to ensure that each of these elements, among others, is well-functioning and fully ingrained into the standard practices of the organization. KTL has found that organizations with strong food safety cultures typically exhibit many of the following attributes:
- Communication. Communication is most effective when it comprises a combination of top-down and bottom-up interaction. All levels of management (senior, middle, supervisory) are responsible for clearly communicating to the workers who carry out the company’s mission. It is equally important that workers provide feedback on a practical level about what’s working and what’s not.
- Commitment. When it comes to food safety, actions truly speak louder than words. A lack of commitment, as demonstrated by action (or lack thereof), comes across loud and clear to staff.
- Caring. Caring involves showing concern for the personal safety of individuals (employees and consumers), not just making a commitment to the overall idea of food safety.
- Cooperation. Cooperation means working together to develop a strong food safety program. It means management seeks feedback from workers about food safety issues—and uses that feedback to make improvements.
- Coaching. Coaching each other—peer to peer, supervisor to employee, even employee to management—is an important way to keep everyone on track, generate constructive criticism, and foster a truly collaborative atmosphere regarding food safety.
- Procedures. There should be documented, clear procedures for every task. This not only prevents disagreement about what is required, it also shows commitment when things are put in writing.
- Training. Training is a more formal, documented process for ensuring that employees follow food safety processes and procedures and feel prepared to do their jobs.
- Tools. All equipment and tools should be in good repair and functioning as designed. Inadequate equipment/tools directly impact food safety/protection and indirectly impact perception of management commitment.
- Personnel. There must be enough qualified workers to perform each task. The company must not sacrifice food safety or quality because of being understaffed (i.e., requiring shortcuts/overtime to meet production goals).
- Trust. Trust in the food safety program, in senior management, and in each other is built when each of these characteristics is present and treated as a company-wide priority.
Planning for Change
For companies that are IFS-certified, now is the ideal time to assess current IFS Food program elements; identify improvements that are internally desirable and required by the new standard; and implement those updates that will create a strong food safety culture and make the IFS Food program more useful to the business. This can be done through a series of phases to ensure adoption throughout the organization.
- Phase 1: IFS Food Internal Assessment – Review existing IFS food programs, processes, and procedures; document management systems; and employee training tools and programs to identify those need areas in need of updates, development, and/or implementation to meet the requirements of IFS Food V7.
- Phase 2: IFS Food Program Updates – Based on the assessment, develop a plan for updating the IFS Food certification program, including major activities, key milestones, and expected outcomes. This may include updating/developing IFS Food programs, processes, procedures, and training with missing V7 requirements and incorporating new food safety culture requirements.
- Phase 3: Training – To ensure staff are prepared to implement and sustain the updated IFS Food V7 program, staff must be trained on applicable requirements; specific plans, procedures, and GMPs developed to achieve compliance; and the certification roadmap to prepare for future assessments.
Following this plan now will help companies ensure they maintain their IFS Food certification when assessments begin under IFS Food V7 in March 2021.
The IFS website has several comprehensive resources available to assist facilities and auditors in understanding the IFS Food V7 changes and requirements, including: