If you have just received notification you have failed the BRCGS audit, you’ll be worried.
BRCGS certification (or, as it was previously known, BRC certification) is the hallmark of an ambitious food and beverage business:
- 70% of top 10 global retailers accept or specify BRCGS.
- 50% of the top 25 global manufacturers specify or are certified to BRCGS.
- 60% of the top 10 global Quick Service Restaurants accept or specify BRCGS.
It means failing the audit or losing your certification will threaten your business and its plans for growth.
So if you’ve just received notification of failure, here’s my advice on what to do next to get back on track.
The first step is to look at the practicalities, particularly around timescales. If you are already certified, you have 28 calendar days to provide objective evidence of corrective action. If this is your first audit, you have 90 days. Whichever applies to you, you’ll want to put plans in place to be sorted before your deadline.
Understand the corrective action you need to take
The next step is to look at what you failed the BRCGS audit on so you can take the necessary corrective action. Broadly speaking, you can fail in two areas – not following basic food safety standards and not following your procedures.
We won’t look at failures in food safety standards here. It’s very rare that any business of any scale or reputation fails on these. If you have, the fixes are generally straightforward and you don’t need expert input.
Instead, we’ll concentrate on what to do if your audit found you were not following your food safety procedures.
Again, you might think this is straightforward – either you have procedures and you follow them or you don’t. Many of the businesses I speak to after they have failed the BRCGS audit are confident they have rigorous food safety procedures in place. So when they fail, they are confused by the findings.
What has happened?
In my experience, the problem tends to be that there’s a mismatch between the theory and the reality. In other words, you have food safety procedures in place but they aren’t being followed in practice. When you fail the audit it’s typically because your auditor has spotted this mismatch. They can see the theory but they can’t see the practice.
The theory vs the reality of food safety procedures
To illustrate this mismatch, let’s take a typical example around the arrival of a refrigerated delivery.
There’s a documented procedure in place. Before the delivery is accepted there’s a form to fill in that records all the necessary information such as the temperature of the truck, the best before date on the stock and if there’s any evidence of damage or leakage. Once this form has been completed satisfactorily, the delivery is accepted. The form provides the necessary audit trail if it’s required.
The reality is that when a refrigerated delivery arrives, all the checks are made but they aren’t recorded. As you (and your auditor) knows, this is a problem. It means there’s no audit trail. Later on, when someone spots that a container is leaking, for example, there’s no way to prove whether it occurred on your premises or not.
How to match food safety procedure theory with food safety procedure reality
I usually find there are two reasons for the theory not matching the reality.
The first reason is simply that staff are not aware of the procedures that are in place.
This is relatively easy to fix. Robust food safety procedures involve regular training sessions so staff are always aware of what they have to do to maintain food safety standards.
However, it is also crucial to refresh the training regularly so staff are always engaged with it. It’s very easy to switch off if you feel you’ve heard the same thing too many times. And when it comes to food safety, complacency is a very bad thing.
The second reason is that staff know about the food safety procedures but it isn’t feasible for them to follow them.
I typically hear team members saying that they knew the procedures were in place but their workload is too heavy. Filling in the paperwork was the thing that had to give.
Resolving this problem will mean looking at the systems and processes you have in place to ask where they can be streamlined and made more efficient.
You have two aims in this process. The first is to free up time so staff feel able to complete the necessary checks. The second is to make the checks robust but rapid so they take the minimum amount of time to complete. If you would like more insight into this area, this blog has more. [How do I standardise processes as my food and beverage business grows?]
I always advise my clients that they do not have to wait for the auditor to visit to test their procedures. You can conduct mock audits very easily – both announced and unannounced. They are a great way to test ways of working and check staff know their responsibilities and feel able to meet them. Apart from giving you confidence in your procedures, mock audits are a useful thing for an auditor to see because it demonstrates you are taking your procedures seriously. You are therefore in a much stronger position both in terms of your audit and your wider business.
Embedding continuous improvement for future audits
For many food and beverage businesses, failing their BRCGS audit is a wake up call. They don’t want to be in that position again. Instead, they want to look at how to embed continuous improvement so they can go from strength to strength and improve their grades next time.
The latest issues of BRCGS standards reward continuous improvement like this. They recognise that the best food and beverage businesses are always looking for new ways to do things better. And when you do this, you open up opportunities for growth because better grades mean you are able to work with bigger, more prestigious names that have more stringent requirements.
I’ve got over 20 years’ experience in helping businesses to embed a culture of continuous improvement so they can scale up. If you would like to talk to me to find out how I could help your business to do the same, get in touch.