What's In A Name - Certification Versus Accreditation

I know Shakespeare said “A rose by another name would be just as sweet” but this is one we have to get right! There is still much incorrect use of the term accreditation in the food industry in the context of food safety and quality systems. The intent of this article is to try and clarify the correct use of the word.

Why certification?

According to SANAS, the South African National Accreditation Service, the global trend is towards a free market with no economic trade barriers and no technical trade barriers. Sounds good but for this to occur, the trading countries must have confidence in the quality and environmental systems, personnel and product certification and inspection systems as well as the measurements and tests conducted by each other.

The reality - The World Trade organization and the European Union have both noted that the lack of acceptance of test results and certification are the most significant barriers to trade. So now what?

The role of International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO)

In an attempt to overcome these barriers, internationally agreed standards and specification have been compiled, many of these by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). These standards are documented agreements containing technical specifications or other precise criteria such as for management systems such as ISO 9001 or ISO 22000. The content of the documents is a result of a slow and painful process of global collaboration of a huge number of stakeholders, including South Africa.

ISO publish standards but they do not assess conformity to the standards. This process is conducted by auditing companies bodies, which are independent of ISO and the businesses they certify. “Certification” or “registration” as it is also known, is the process of when an independent and competent third party certifies that a product, service, system, process, material, person conforms to specific requirements of a standard such as ISO 22000.

Where does accreditation come in?

So who checks the auditors? This is where we use the term accreditation. Certification bodies should be monitored or “accredited” to ensure that the way they conduct their assessments is independent and competent and that it delivers its services in the most time and cost effective way.

Enter SANAS. They are a government gazetted body that falls under the DTI. SANAS is a member of the International Accreditation forum(IAF) and the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation(ILAC), both of which are the really big chiefs at the top of the world accreditation pyramid.

SANAS will audit certification bodies against ISO standards such as ISO 17021 depending on the scope of certification. These standards focus on the requirements to ensure that the certification bodies are both competent to carry out the work involved and operate independently of the businesses certified. Thus the accreditation body accredits the certification body, that is, gives formal recognition that the body is competent to carry out specific tasks.

A company seeking certification would be well advised to use only an ACCREDITED certification body as this way there is some confidence in the competence of the body. For more details on who these bodies are go to www.sanas.co.za.

So who checks SANAS? IAF Multilateral Recognition Arrangement (MLA) or the ILAC Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) are set up between countries and regions to provide assurance of equivalence of the operation of certification/registration bodies in those countries/regions. These agreements are set up after stringent peer reviews of the accreditation body seeking recognition.

The right way

The right way to say this is: “A company is audited by an accredited certification body to confirm compliance to the requirements of ISO 22000 will be CERTIFIED or REGISTERED and NOT accredited."

And being certified is often the minimum requirement to be approved as a supplier – locally and abroad. Accreditation and certification are crucial components of this acceptance. It means your certificate issued in South Africa will be accepted for international trade. Well, in theory anyway!

Check out http://www.iaf.nu/articles/IAF_MLA/14 for more details if you are interested.

© Linda Jackson, Food Focus