The sixth version of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) global standards audit requires a clear audit trail to be co-signed off. And many firms are using photographs showing factory areas before and after cleaning for this purpose, says Ron Rigby, industrial business manager at LPM, a contract cleaner.
Their inclusion has grown with advances in digital technology and has reached a point where they are more distraction than aid, says Neil Brown, technical director at contract cleaner The Hygiene Group.
David Brackston, technical director at the BRC, says the standard has no requirement for before-and-after photos. Instead, firms should consider what level of cleaning is required and how best to prove the way they clean meets requirements.
Auditors know what 'clean' is, says Brown. They want to look at micro-standards such as laboratory tests to validate the clean not photographs.
Photographs only give part of the story, says Jonathan Adams, technical operations manager at certifying body and consultancy NSF-CMI.
If auditors are concerned with a facility's level of cleanliness, a firm would have to show more evidence such as staff retraining and proof they understood the cleaning instructions, he adds.
Brown says: "Lots of firms dress up their working procedures, so when Mr Tesco or Mr Asda comes round, they say: 'You've got them, well done.'"
However, many firms do not have the resources to apply for BRC certification. The Society of Food Hygiene and Technology (SOFHT) has created the SOFHTe certification scheme for smaller suppliers. It has an electronic self-assessment questionnaire that suppliers can fill out without a major investment of time and money, says Simon Houghton-Dodd, chairman of SOFHT. Photographs are a cost-effective way of determining if a supplier requires further on-site auditing, he says. Corrective actions can also easily be shown. "It has its place but you would not accept everything at face value," he says.
However, a spokeswoman for the Safe and Local Supplier Approval (SALSA) scheme a similar scheme for smaller suppliers says SALSA does not accept photographs as proof in applications.