Food safety certification

Food safety: Choosing a certification body

The choice of a certification body is one of the most importance strategic decisions that an organisation can make when it comes to their food safety/quality programmes. In the wake of some recent turmoil in the certification arena locally, here are some of the criteria to evaluate when choosing a certification body…

Much has been much happening in the local certification business, for the wrong reasons, alas. For instance, FOODStuff SA has learnt that PPECB has discontinued its BRC/ISO/HACCP certification, which has left many of their clients scrambling for a new certification body, while the SABS is said to be looking to recover after its “voluntary” SANAS suspension last year.  

Food safety/QC customers should rightly be more concerned in their selection of a certification body. This article on selecting the appropriate certification body will help companies decide who they should be using and thus be spared the recent chaos.

1. Credibility

Evaluate and compare certification bodies in terms of their current clients before making a decision. The clients of certification bodies contribute to the credibility of any certification body and can almost be seen as their resume’. For example: has the certification body certified multi-national companies or only local organisations? Ask for references from the clients of a specific certification body, e.g. ask them to state the positive and negative experiences and aspects of the particular certification body.

2. Accreditation

The International Organization for Standards (ISO) defines accreditation as follows: “Accreditation, in simple terms, means that a certification body has been officially approved as competent to carry out certification in specified business sectors by a national accreditation body.”

Find out whether the certification body that you want to use is accredited. The International Accreditation Forum (IAF) has a list of accreditation bodies with their contact details on their website (www.iaf.nu). The websites of most accreditations bodies contains a list of all the certification bodies that they have accredited.

3. Complies with ISO17021:2006

Determine whether the certification body has implemented ISO17021:2006: Conformity assessment – Requirements for bodies providing audit and certification of management systems. The certification body has to be managed according to these requirements in order to be able to conduct audits.

4. Cost

The cost of audits can add up to an enormous amount, especially when auditors have to travel from abroad. The cheapest option is not always the best option in terms of value for money.

There are other factors to consider when it comes to the cost of a certification body: the availability of local auditors; the comprehensiveness of the audit report; the support services that they offer (e.g. a pre-assessment prior to Stage 1 audit); and the location of their offices and auditors.

5. Experienced auditors

There are three aspects to consider when it comes to auditors: work experience, qualification and training.

The auditors should have the sufficient years of relevant work experience in combination with qualifications (e.g. food-related diploma/degree) to be able to conduct successful audits. Training against ISO19011: Guidelines for quality and/or environmental management systems auditing is beneficial. A combination of these three aspects will ensure the consistency of audit reports.

6. The quality of audit reports

The detail provided in an audit report will help companies to implement corrective actions and in the end to improve the system.

Some certification bodies will only list the non-conformances, where others will provide detailed suggested corrective actions. Findings should be written in a way that it can be corrected. References should be made to dates, locations and the requirement against which the specific findings are made against. Web-based improvement/corrective action plans are becoming a way of communication between certification bodies and their clients.

7. Other aspects

There are other minor aspects to consider when choosing your certification body:

~ Language barriers. If you are a fruit pack house in the Boland and the staff is only fluent in Afrikaans, it will be almost impossible for an audit to be conducted successful without the extra cost of a translator.

~ Supporting services, e.g. the degree of detail in which the audit plan has been compiled; how well did the auditors prepare for the audit; professionalism of the auditors; time management and the respect of ethical and social values.

REFERENCES:

  • International Organization for Standards (ISO).
  • Global Standard for Food Safety: Issue 6.