The Differences Between IFS Version 6 and IFS Version 7

In March 2021, IFS version 7 came into force and will be mandatory for all certified companies from July 1, 2021. We spoke with Chryssa Dimitriadis, Head of IFS Standard Management, about the differences between IFS version 6.1 and IFS version 7, the strategy the IFS is following during the pandemic to ensure product safety, and which tools exists for companies to get familiar with the new requirements. 

Can you introduce yourself briefly, explain your role within IFS and tell us what the main purpose of the IFS is? 

My name is Chryssa Dimitriadis. I am a food technology engineer. I live and work in Paris where I joined the IFS Team in 2016. Since 2020, I am the Head of the IFS Standard Management and responsible for the harmonisation of all standards.

Chryssa Dimitriadis, Head of IFS Standard Management

 At the same time, I manage IFS Food Standard. In this function, I co-ordinated its review process together with my colleagues from the IFS Technical Team and the members of the various IFS Committees.

IFS Management GmbH is a company owned by FCD and HDE (the French and German retail federations). It encompasses a package of global safety and quality standards and programs that provide transparency and comparability along the entire post-farm supply chain. IFS Standards are applicable to a variety of operations and activities in the food and non-food sector. An IFS Certificate shows that the certified company has established resilient processes to ensure that food and product safety are in line with legal requirements and customer specifications.

Both product safety and quality are essential components of all IFS Standards. An IFS Assessment is product and process focussed and ensures that the development of quality products is assured through correspondingly functioning processes.

Covid-19 has been affecting the entire world for months. Have you seen any dramatic changes for your clients due to Covid-19? 

The pandemic affected companies around the word in the food and non-food sector. We all had to be very adaptable and reactive to this new situation. During the first months of the pandemic and the first lockdowns worldwide, the situation was very difficult. Some companies faced challenges in the supply chain, while others could maintain their production activities. We also saw that certification assessments had to be postponed because of travel restrictions or crisis regulation.

During the crisis, we wanted to support our stakeholders and at the same time ensure the integrity of our certificates. IFS has followed a clear, consistent and transparent strategy to ensure product safety and quality.  We have introduced several tools to provide solutions for all stakeholders. For example, we developed the IFS Remote Surveillance Check for companies whose certificates have lapsed. This option allows a company to show that their supporting processes are still working well. In addition, we published a practical guidance document on crisis management concerning the COVID-19 pandemic and documents providing answers to FAQs for certification bodies and auditors.

Also, we introduced the IFS Split Assessment, an on-site inspection combined with a remote assessment of the documentation. It ensures the integrity of an IFS Certificate while recognising the strain the Covid-19 pandemic has placed on auditor travel and the risks of extended face-to-face contact. The IFS Split Assessment follows GFSI benchmarking requirements. It applies to recertification assessments of all IFS Standards and Global Markets programs (intermediate level). The only exception is for IFS Broker to which a full remote protocol applies.

I am convinced that our policy and tools have contributed to maintaining trust in IFS and between business partners in the supply chain. As a result, we saw, that despite all the challenges, most IFS Certification Assessments could take place. In 2020 we only had 1,6 per cent fewer IFS Food Certificates compared to the previous year. Overall, we had a reduction of only two per cent. These figures confirm that we have chosen the right path.

You have recently released IFS Version 7.  What are the most significant changes comparing to the previous version and what does it mean for IFS certified companies? 

If I had to name six main changes of this new version, it would be the following ones:

  • The emphasis of production processes related requirements with a minimum duration for the on-site evaluation and a minimum assessment duration of two days (a more ISO/IEC 17065 based approach).
  • The new scoring system, with the introduction of corrections to be implemented before the certificate is issued and a change in the definition of the B rating as point of attention.
  • The obligation to carry out an unannounced assessment at least once every third IFS Assessment.
  • In the checklist: the introduction of the food safety culture and a clarification of what is expected in terms of outsourcing (by introducing three new requirements).
  • The standardisation of the assessment report, which saves time for the auditors and is more readable for users.
  • The Global Location Number (GLN) of GS1, which is compulsory for companies in the European Economic Area.

The new version of the IFS Food standard is extended from 281 to 237 requirements, with 12 new requirements. This reduction illustrates our willingness to focus the assessment more on the operational aspects of companies than on the part related to the management system. Some requirements that were more documentary and/or related to the management system have been grouped together or deleted, in order to keep the essential elements of a good food safety and quality management system, which are supported by the more numerous requirements on good practices and requirements on products and processes.

IFS Food certified companies need to get familiar with the new requirements of the assessment checklist as well as the updated assessment protocol and scoring system with the aim to pursue the continuous improvement and enhance their customers trust.

Do you provide any specific tools or trainings supporting your customers getting familiar with the new requirements? 

With the publication of the new version, we published additional explanatory documents and tools

The IFS Food Assessment Guideline that is available for free on our website gives examples of questions that can be asked by the auditors for each requirement as well as references of the relevant regulation to support auditors as well as certified companies.

We also published the comparison of the checklists and all parts of the standard with its  previous version which helps understanding what is modified in this new version.

The IFS Academy offers e-learnings about the new version and the product and food safety culture. In addition, we have training partners and consultants worldwide that offer trainings with IFS material on the new version.

Finally yet importantly, companies can use the free IFS AuditXpressX software and the IFS App Audit Manager for their internal audits. This way, IFS certified sites can perform their internal audits just like an IFS Auditor would. This allows them to easily assess their performance and identify potential for improvement. The IFS App also provides all supportive documents and guidelines.

Any new version has a certain impact on the certified sites. But what does it mean for the certification bodies? How do you proceed in terms of getting the auditors trained? 

It is crucial for us to support and inform our stakeholders and especially the certification bodies about the new version. We first explained and showed them all the relevant changes during the annual IFS Certification Body Conference in 2020. In addition, we created a TTT (Train the Trainer) course and we trained all the certification bodies’ IFS Trainers. With the learnings from this course, they could qualify their own IFS Auditors.

Furthermore, we created a one day e-learning for the IFS Auditors focused on IFS’s product and process approach. It is essential to IFS that IFS Auditors worldwide have the same understanding of this approach. In addition, auditors can also download the IFS Good Assessment Practices (GAP) Guideline. In the IFS GAP Guideline, we describe an IFS Assessment's specifics and what is expected of an IFS Auditor along the assessment trail in detail. It provides typical auditor questions and practical advice on how to act in certain assessment situations. Together with our new IFS Product and Process Approach e-learning course for IFS Auditors, IFS sees it as an essential element that ensures our assessments' high quality.

Last but not least, we have provided all certification bodies with the IFS AuditXpressX software free of charge.  It is a very helpful tool for certification bodies and auditors, and simplifies the creation of the IFS reports and certificates.

The whole business is characterized by stricter requirements and regulations to secure that our food is safe. Do you see any upcoming regulations that will shape the future? Or do you even wish for certain changes based on your expertise? 

The European Union (EU) recently adopted a regulation requiring food business operators to establish and provide evidence of an appropriate food safety culture. In the IFS Food version 7-checklist food safety culture was added in two requirements to enforce the importance of the corporate policy and the management review. This is one example of revised regulations about food safety that will need to be implemented by all companies in EU and will surely shape the future of food safety.

Also, we have seen that consumers are looking at products more critically for several years now. Their expectations of products go beyond food safety. In my opinion, topics such as sustainability, carbon footprint and origin of products and raw materials will play a more decisive role in future. Together with the stakeholders in the IFS Network we need to think about these topics, while enhancing the trust in food safety and quality will continue to be our core mission.