What is an IFS Audit?
An IFS audit is a comprehensive evaluation of an organization’s processes, procedures, and facilities according to the International Featured Standard (IFS). It assesses food distributors and manufacturers on several areas of their food safety management system. Moreover, the audit also aims to verify compliance with local and national food safety regulations.
Why Use a Checklist for IFS Audits
Since IFS audits cover a wide range of areas in food safety and quality management, they can take time to complete, especially when done regularly. Food businesses can take advantage of tools like checklists and templates to simplify the process for them.
An IFS Food audit checklist is an excellent reference for auditors, as it outlines the requirements for IFS certification in one place. With a handy checklist, they can cover all areas of the audit process, easily spot gaps in food operations, and avoid overlooking any aspect. This, in turn, helps companies meet the standard’s criteria before third-party audits take place.
An effective IFS audit checklist for food safety management systems should cover the following sections:
Governance and Commitment
The first part of an IFS food checklist focuses on the management’s commitment to complying with IFS standards throughout their operations. Auditors will look into existing corporate policies, organizational structure, and management reviews in this section.
Food Safety and Quality Management System (QMS)
The next section of the checklist looks into the organization’s existing measures for food safety and quality. It often involves checking relevant documentation and analyzing possible threats to safe and quality food production processes. Some examples include food risk assessments and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans.
Human resources are an integral part of a food safety management system (FSMS), as they are the ones who will be carrying out tasks. For this reason, an IFS audit should dedicate a section to evaluating staff members. It’s a must to check if employees follow personal and food hygiene practices, receive food safety training, and work in a clean and conducive environment.
The bulk of an IFS audit checklist delves into the specific functions of food businesses, from preparation and handling to processing and distribution. Here’s a list of items to cover when evaluating food production operations:
- Agreements and specifications
- Procurement and purchasing procedures
- Food supply chain traceability
- Product packaging
- Receipt, storage, and transport of goods
- Facility location and layout
- Repair and maintenance
- Cleaning and disinfection procedures
- Waste management
- Risk mitigation for allergens and foreign materials
Measurements, Analysis, and Improvements
IFS audits also involve monitoring, evaluation, and improvement schemes for operations. Thus, it’s important to include all possible means for your organization to keep track of and enhance your food safety systems, such as the following:
- Internal audits
- Site inspections
- Measuring and monitoring devices
- Product and process analyses
- Complaint and incident management (for product recalls and withdrawals)
- Corrective actions
Food Defense Plan
Lastly, an IFS audit checklist should clearly define the organization’s food defense plan. This section should be based on the results of risk assessments and integrated into internal audit and inspection plans.
Tips to Prepare for IFS Audits
Preparing for an IFS audit requires careful planning and attention to detail. Creating checklists is a great way to start getting ready for the certification process, and it doesn’t stop there. Here are some tips that businesses can follow to better comply with IFS requirements:
- Conduct a gap analysis – This will help identify areas where operations may not be compliant with the IFS standard. Once these gaps are spotted, the business can take steps to address them before the audit.
- Train employees – Staff training should cover food safety, quality management, legal compliance, and specific roles and responsibilities during IFS audits.
- Perform internal audits – These allow businesses to determine recurring lapses in the implementation process. It also familiarizes employees with the audit process to ensure they are prepared for the real one.
- Ensure documentation is up-to-date – IFS audits require companies to provide proof of compliance with the standard. Thus, as a standard practice, all essential records and documents (e.g., policies, procedures, etc.) should be updated and readily available.
- Go digital – Ditch the traditional pen and paper method and switch to powerful digital solutions to streamline existing processes. It’s best to look for software programs that allow you to run internal checks, automate manual tasks, and receive real-time reports from your mobile device. Here’s an example of an IFS audit report completed using a digital tool:
FAQs about IFS Audits
IFS Food audits are performed by independent third-party auditors who assess a food production facility’s compliance with the IFS Food Standard. They will carefully check if the business follows the requirements for documentation, processes, and procedures before granting certification. Generally, audits can take one to several days to complete.
Food businesses generally go through audits on an annual basis, but this frequency can change depending on the company’s certification status and the results of previous audits. For example, if the business has compliance issues or significant changes in operations, the certification body may require more frequent audits.
Both IFS and British Retail Consortium (BRC) standards revolve around food safety in the food industry but are designed for different markets. The BRC’s Food Safety Certification Program focuses on the UK market, while IFS’ Food Standard caters to French and German businesses.