An IFS certificate is valid for a maximum of 12 months. In order to receive a new certificate before it expires, an on-site audit must take place. However, in times of COVID-19, such an audit is not always possible. So what are the alternatives?
“This certified company can produce a safe product according to customer specifications” – this is the guiding principle of IFS. In order to stay true to this sentence, IFS has chosen not to introduce a fully remote audit option because, according to IFS, a remote audit does not enable reliable conclusions about the hygiene and compliance with good manufacturing practices.
For sites that have implemented access restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, an on-site audit is often not an option. To explain its position and address possible alternatives, IFS has published a new document, available for download here.
What to do if an on-site audit cannot take place?
If the standard procedure cannot be adhered to, IFS suggests the following options:
- Case-by-case review
IFS does not extend the IFS Certificate if a scheduled renewal audit is not possible. In this case, IFS strongly recommends that the company whose certificate expires contacts its customers and certification body to discuss how to deal with the situation.
- Transparency in the IFS Database
IFS supports this process by establishing the necessary transparency about the status of the IFS certificate in the IFS database. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, IFS implemented a COVID-19 notification function in the IFS database to identify audits that did not take place and have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 notification is carried out by the certification body responsible for the audit. This provides transparency about the certificates and audits affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Risk assessement by IFS Remote Surveillance Check
In the event that a certificate expires, IFS recommends that suppliers and customers carry out a risk assessment and decide, on the basis of the risk assessment, how they wish to maintain cooperation and maintain the supply chain. Another important point in carrying out the risk assessment, whether the cooperation between supplier and customer will continue without an IFS Certificate, is the overall consideration of the business relationship. The number of recalls, the basic quality of the cooperation and many other points that only suppliers and customers can answer together.
The IFS Certificate is an important part of the collaboration, but it is not the only criterion for whether a delivery relationship works. After a thorough risk assessment, there is an option to add a COVID-19 notification to an expiring certificate. The expired certificate will still be visible. Additionally, IFS offers an IFS Remote surveillance check tool for this risk assessment. It is a voluntary option that is not accredited and is not recognised by the GFSI, where the most important documents of the management system are reviewed on a remote basis. All important information about the IFS Remote Surveillance Check can be found here.
- Unannounced GMP Check
The crucial question of whether a producer can produce a safe product according to customer specifications is and remains the focus of GMP and hygiene in food production. The vast majority of food producers maintained their production in the COVID-19 pandemic. Raw materials are being delivered and external personnel have access to the production facilities to maintain the equipment or perform pest control activities. So in general it is possible that facilities can be visited, taking necessary precautions into consideration. In such cases, also an auditor can perform a visit in order to get an idea of the production facilities and to check whether GMP and hygiene are complied with.
For this purpose, IFS offers the IFS Unannounced GMP check tool. It is a voluntary option that is not accredited and is not recognised by the GFSI, where compliance with GMP and hygiene in production is checked. This gives an answer to the question of whether the production is safe. For the execution of the IFS Unannounced GMP check, only the personnel in the production area, who manage the production and the employees in the production, must be present. The IFS Unannounced GMP check is an option if a complete IFS certification audits cannot take place, for example when key employees with access to documents and records are working from home.
- IFS Certification Audit
As soon as normal audit practices and certifications according to IFS standards/programs are possible, IFS strongly recommends that a full IFS certification audit be performed.
The full document on the IFS approach to COVID-19 can be viewed here.
All information about the remote audit options of the IFS can be found here.