BRC: Trade has 'no appetite' for new allergen standard

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Standardization Food safety Brc

BRC: Trade has 'no appetite' for new allergen standard
News that the British Standards Institution (BSI) is developing a new allergen control standard is an “unnecessary development, which we do not support”, according to the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC’s) Trading arm.

The BSI, which will use the Anaphylaxis Campaign’s allergen control standard​ as a starting point, is aiming to produce a draft of the new standard​ for public comment in late 2011 or early 2012.

However, David Brackston, technical director, food schemes at BRC Trading, said there was “neither a need nor an appetite for this type of single issue standard,”​ adding: “Education, information, training, yes. Another audit? No thank you.”

The BRC Food Standard ​had a section on allergen management which was significantly upgraded in issue five and would be reviewed again​ as issue six was developed, he added.

Allergens are just one of a number of potential food safety issues which need to be effectively managed by manufacturers and this needs to be part of an integrated risk-based approach to food safety and audited as such.”

It didn't work the first time

Richard Werran, md at third party certification body Cert-ID, ​noted that the reason that Anaphlyaxis Campaign’s original standard was withdrawn was because it did not have industry support,​ adding: “There is nothing to indicate that this attitude has changed.

“Single issue standards have their place, particularly where there is a consumer choice issue, in areas such as sustainability, but food safety is not an issue of consumer choice and a comprehensive approach is preferable.”

Food manufacturers: A mixed response

The news has received a more mixed response from food manufacturers, with some welcoming it but others arguing that the last thing they need is another accreditation scheme.

One industry source told that it would be useful if the major supermarkets all got behind one scheme.

“To have one standard across all food manufacturing sites would give consistency and assurance to customers throughout the chain. If certified verification of the standard were recognised by the major retailers then based on the cost of a recall alone, this would pay dividends.”

We need better audits, not more standards

However, technical managers contacted by predicted few manufacturers would be prepared to go through the cost and hassle of certification to another standard unless their customers demanded it, as they were already subject to multiple customer audits​ and the BRC audit.

One technical manager​said: “You’ve got PIU ​[Product Integrity Unit] at Tesco, Food Safety at Sainsbury’s, PPC​ [Product and Process Control] with M&S, Morrisons now has a site audit programme and Asda does compliance auditing.

“So do I think we need a separate allergen control standard? No. I think that this should be part of the whole HACCP ​[hazard analysis, critical control point] and due diligence process around raw material specifications and supplier audit/approval."

The BRC standard and several of the supermarket codes of practice already had detailed sections on allergen management, he added. What mattered was the auditing.

“Retailers already demand comprehensive risk mitigation as it is. And the BRC audit should challenge the detail on individual products if there is a real desire to determine the operation’s defence on any allergen risk.”

Robust auditing

He added: “Robust auditing is the requirement and should be risk-based. Detail on a product will give a very valid determination.”

As for the BRC standard, he said, “Looking again at the protocols by which the standard is audited and managed is what is required, not messing with the standard itself due to all the associated work and cost that this involves.”

Tesco declined to comment on whether it would support the new BSI standard, adding: “Tesco evaluates all its suppliers of food products. Our experienced and highly trained team will make a judgment in each factory as to whether controls are effective or whether a tightening of their controls is required.'”

Hotly debated

Simon Flanagan, senior consultant, food safety, at Reading Scientific Services (RSSL), said the new standard was likely to be “hotly debated”​ in the trade, although he had an open mind at this stage. “We would be very happy to work with the BSI."

While allergen management was something many manufacturers needed to work on, yet another audit was not something many would relish, he suspected.

“The retailers all have slightly different approaches to allergen control and labelling, so there may be some merit in having everything done in the same way. But some people will say why not just make it part of the BRC standard?”

That said, the Anaphylaxis Campaign’s original standard and the associated training was “very useful”​ and went well beyond what was in the BRC or the Food Standards Agency’s ‘orange guide’, he said.

“But the costs of certification were always going to be a challenge and the logo ​[which manufacturers accredited to the standard could opt to display on products] was very problematic.”

Improved control measures

Richard Sprenger, chairman of Highfield, which developed a training course to help firms comply with the Anaphylaxis Campaign standard, said he did not think many manufacturers would embrace the new BSI standard unless a major retailer insisted upon it.

He added that "enhancing the allergen control section of the BRC standard" ​might be more cost effective: "However, auditors will require additional training and must have the time and motivation to undertake an effective allergen audit."

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1 comment

We cannot ignore the cultural and human challenges within the food supply chain

Posted by Stephen Whyte,

This debate is very informative but one key point is overlooked.

Regardless of how many standards are chosen, a real challenge with allergens is getting down into the supply chain and getting accurate reliable information on which to assess risks.

Cultural and human challenges are being overlooked. Wherever you are in the food supply chain, a pathogen is a pathogen and everyone understands the risk, hence you have some chance of managing these risks.

But when you drill into the supply chain around the world many suppliers do not understand and appreciate the risk that some allergens present to consumers.

If they do not understand and appreciate the risk, how certain can we be that their systems are robust enough?

We cannot ignore the cultural and human challenges within the food supply chain and how these impact our ability to manage allergens.

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