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5 tips to select the proper quality system

31/08/2018 | Bart Bosch | General

ISO 9001, ISO 22000, BRC, IFS, FSSC 22000, BRC-IOP, IFS-PACsecure, SQF … The list with quality systems and quality certificates goes on and on. So how do you see the wood for the trees? How do you choose the adequate evaluation system for your company? These 5 tips will help you find your way. The bottom of this article also includes a convenient decision-making structure summarising all tips.  

1. Listen to you customer 

In many cases your customer asks you to implement a quality system which means the geographical situation may be decisive. In that case, you have limited options. UK-oriented customers will be more likely to turn to the BRC (British Retail Consortium) while continental customers possibly tend more towards the IFS (International Featured Standards).  
You will sometimes be asked to implement a system that leads to a certificate recognised by the GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative). That extends your options as the GFSI currently recognises 13 standards. Are you in this situation? Be sure to read tip 2. 

2. Determine your focus: system certification or product certification 

The approach of both systems is essentially different: product certification doesn’t tell you how you should design your quality system and only indicates the direction. A checklist indicates all matters that should be present so you can easily start ticking off topics. Examples are the BRC and the IFS. 

System certification helps you on your way to set up and maintain an entire quality management system. As no checklist is provided, the organisation has to put in greater effort to determine in which way the requirements of the standard are to be fulfilled. Examples of system certification are ISO 9001, ISO 22000 and FSSC 22000. 

The standards for product certification are usually managed by retail organisations and normally focus on a part of the market. The standards for system certification are managed by independent organisations and are based on the ISO-procedures. This makes them less limited in terms of geography and globally accepted. 

3. Look at the type of activity of the organisation

Are you looking for a quality management system outside the sector of food safety? In that case ISO 9001 is the best option. ISO 9001 is more or less the “mother” of all quality management systems.  

Are you focused on food safety? You are able to choose between product certification or system certification. System certification includes ISO 22000 and FSSC 2200. The latter actually is the ISO 22000 with additional requirements in order to be recognised by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). ISO 22000 on its own is not enough for GFSI-certification. Both can be applied to any type of activity.  

The above is different when it comes to product specification. Are foodstuffs being processed? This is covered by general standards such as the BRC and the IFS. These standards also have more specific versions, for example for the production of packaging material or for activities in the logistics field of the food chain.  

4. Choose between a specific score or general assessment 

Product certification works with a score providing the certificate with a certain valuation. The BRC, for example, contains the levels AA, A, B, C and D and the IFS includes a “Foundation Level” and a “Higher Level”. As an audit always is a snapshot in time, other shortcomings may surface during a next audit which may cause the score to drop. The result? A so-called “down-grading”. BRC-level “A” is obtained in the event of 10 small shortcomings but starting at 11 small shortcomings, the level will be adjusted to “B”. The same applies to the IFS: a score of 95.01% grants you the valuation of “Higher Level” but this valuation will be adjusted to “Foundation Level” at 94.99%. 

In turn, system certification only says whether your quality management system or food safety system complies with the standard. Are you unable to sufficiently show this fulfilment? You will not receive a certificate until you can. 

5. Check whether you must integrate other management systems  

As said, the standards for system certification are based on ISO-standards. The latest version of ISO 9001 (2015) can be easily integrated with other ISO-standards. This means it is possible to combine ISO 9001 with ISO 14001: environment, ISO 22000: food safety and ISO 45001: safety (Occupational Health & Safety). This way you only have to maintain 1 system.  

You don’t have that option for product certification. However, it is possible to gather BRC and IFS into one system which is an advantage of standards recognised by the GFSI. Integration with environment and safety is not possible so you have to set up a separate system for these standards.  

As you can see there are plenty of options to choose the proper certification. You must apply one rule of thumb: the certification in itself should not be your objective. A quality system has to be supported and lived within the organisation. And that is simply impossible if the paper hanging on the wall is your only goal.