The British Retail Consortium (BRC) guidelines, aimed at quality and technical managers at manufacturing sites, offer practical and simplified advice on implementing the organisation's standards on foods, packaging, consumer products and non-genetically modified products.
Certified plants must meet and follow the standards if they want to continue supplying the UK retail and food service markets. In addition, retailers in other European countries have been adopting the BRC's standards for their domestic suppliers, whether or not they sell to the UK market.
Kevin Swoffer, the BRC's head of technical services told FoodProductionDaily.com that they were issued after accreditation bodies and smaller companies, especially those from the new EU member states, asked for help in interpreting and following the standards.
The 10 documents offer practical advice relating to metal detection, product recalls, low acid canning, pasteurisation, pest control, internal audits, traceability, quality measurement, complaint handling and shelf-life determination.
For example, the guideline on metal detection explains the process of setting one up in a plant, how they work, and some of the aspects plant managers need to be aware of when problems occur. The one on product recalls explains the procedures they and retailers must follow to ensure contaminated foods are taken of the shelves as quickly as possible.
The 10 areas were listed as the areas most likely to be difficult to understand and follow by suppliers and certification bodies.
About 5,500 production sites in 64 countries were accredited under the BRC's standards last year, of which 1,100 were new applicants. Food companies receive accreditation through independent auditing organisations approved by the BRC.
The companies pay for the process, which then provides them with a certificate accepted by all of the UK's retail organisations. Marks & Spencer is the only major retailer that does not subscribe to the BRC's standards, although its has a similar process, Swoffer said.
In addition retailers in many of the Scandinavian countries - which include Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland - have adopted the BRC's standards for their suppliers. The standards are also being used in Ireland and by Germany-based Metro, one of the largest retailers in Europe.
Retailer organisations in Australia and South Africa are in the process of adopting similar standards, Swoffer said.
The standards were first developed in 1998 after the UK's retailers decided to consolidate the various standards they required their suppliers to follow. The original requirements outlined a series of "best practices", which evolved over the years to become standards for the industry.
The standards have also expanded from dealing with procedures for product recalls to incident management and internal plant processes.
"There has been a general shift upwards to a higher standard," Swoffer said. "They have raised the profile of food safety."
The standards mirror the requirements set out under the EU and UK's food laws. In some cases they exceed the legal requirements, especially those relating to traceability.
The EU's food law only requires food companies to know their immediate suppliers and buyers in the food chain, a principle known as "one step before and one step after".
The BRC's standard also requires that food companies trace produces internally, down to the batch level. Swoffer said the requirement proved its worth during the Sudan 1 food contamination scare last year.
Within 12 hours of the discovery of the illegal ingredient, the affected foods were off the shelves due in part to the stricter traceability requirements. The standard also allowed suppliers to reformulate their products and put them on the shelves again the following day, Swoffer said.
Within 48 hours, the organisation was able to provide a full report to the UK's Food Standards Agency about the affected products.