Unpacking a global standard for food manufacturers
When addressing the impact of plastic packaging on the environment, food manufacturers must also consider upholding food safety. Darcy Simonis, industry network leader for ABB’s food and beverage segment, considers the forthcoming changes to the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) Global Standard for Packaging and Packaging Materials, and what it means for manufacturers.
In 2016, 170 kg of packaging waste was generated per inhabitant in the EU, with paper and cardboard being the main waste material (35.4 million tonnes) followed by plastic and glass (16.3 million tonnes). A growing throwaway culture, made up mostly of single-use food wrapping, has created a global waste problem that is polluting every corner of the globe. While consumers are doing their bit, manufacturers must also take some responsibility and look at new ways to tackle this growing epidemic.
Despite new solutions being sought, we should not forget the vital role packaging plays — to protect the quality of a product and stop contamination. As more money is poured into finding suitable solutions, manufacturers need to be aware of the rules and regulations that exist surrounding the production and use of packaging.
The standards in action
First introduced in 1998, the BRC Global Standard for Packaging and Packaging Materials helps those working with packaging to deliver products that support the transport of safe, hygienic food. Recognised by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GSFI) as the first packaging standard in the world, over 3500 suppliers in more than 80 countries are certified in the scheme to ensure product safety and quality management of the food and beverage supply chain.
The standard itself consists of six sections: senior management commitment, hazard and risk management system, product safety and quality management, site standards, products and process control, and personnel.
In August 2019, the latest version of the standard was published, following the revision of a draft version that was released in 2018. Developed in collaboration with packaging professionals, the scope of the revision includes packaging manufacture and the printing and production of raw materials for the packaging industry. It focuses on product safety, with a large emphasis on functionality and quality.
So, what can we expect from the changes?
Food safety culture
Food safety isn’t just the responsibility of those working on the production line — all areas of the business should be continuously looking for ways of improving safety throughout a plant. Issue 6 will introduce a new clause (1.1.2) that requires sites to set up, execute and review an action plan to improve product safety and quality culture.
In the previous revision of the standards, there was a two-tier approach to hygiene: basic and high. In Issue 6, these tiers will be consolidated as a way of simplifying the standard. The two-category system will be replaced with a risk-based approach based on a single set of requirements.
More than product hygiene
The BRC Global Standard is not just about hygiene; it also looks at both product safety and quality. Issue 6 will place a great emphasis on both of these aspects. To improve relevant control measures, the hazard and risk analysis (HARA) separates hazards into product safety and quality defects (2.2.6) in order to prevent, eliminate or reduce each product quality hazard to acceptable levels.
Issue 5 of the global standard offered three audit options for the industry: full announced audit, full unannounced audit and split unannounced audit. The working group involved in the revision of the standard identified that the full unannounced audit option instils ‘extra confidence to specifiers’. As a result, the split unannounced audit option will be removed in Issue 6.
Raw material management is vital in the packaging industry, particularly in areas where there is a high risk of contamination. Section 8 of the BRC standard will see the implementation of a new environmental control, involving a risk assessment of loss damage and spillage of materials.
While food manufacturers will need to rethink the packaging materials they use, it should not change the packaging process too significantly as it is only the material that will change. Swapping plastic packaging for a biopolymer alternative won’t change the overall palletising process, meaning minimal disruption to the overall manufacturing process.
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