Brexit food standards: Get your quality management system right 

09 October 2020

Brexit food standards: Get your quality management system right 

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Brexit will start to affect food standards in January 2021, and that’s just the beginning. Food businesses must be ready to adapt to new regulations in a way that protects their staff, the public and the bottom line, right now and in the future. But what are Brexit food standards, and how can you feel confident about handling the unknowns? Here are some of your questions answered:

How will Brexit food standards affect your business?

Brexit could affect every part of your food safety and quality management system (FSQMS) if standards change. The way you audit standards, oversee your supply chain, certify quality and train the workforce may all need to be revised.

For food companies that export their products, the need to comply with EU and other international standards will not change. This is big business: 60% of all UK food and drink exports went to the EU in 2019, worth about £5bn to the economy. 26% of food consumed in the UK came from the EU within the same period.  

For those that don’t export, the cost of changing regulations can also be high if not managed properly. Non-compliance can have a major effect on your bottom line, not just in terms of fines but the loss of business that a public health scare can create.

These are the known effects of any change in food standards and regulation. But how do we prepare for the unknowns of Brexit?

Which food standards will change when the UK leaves the EU?

Government advice on Brexit food standards is currently focused on labelling and certification. From the 21st January 2021, new guidelines will apply to food and drink goods sold in the UK, and goods that are exported.  These are all available to view on the UK government website, where they are updated regularly.

As to other future standards, things are a little unclear. We can look for clues in legislation that is currently working its way through Parliament. An Agriculture Bill is being debated, and it raises the possibility that imported foods may no longer need to match the high standards expected of domestic food producers. This could have an economic impact on UK food producers that would feed into the supply chain. The variance could also make it harder to track the quality of multiple suppliers.  

Of course, these are all ‘what ifs’. The most important thing to do now is to make sure your business has the best tools to adapt fast and with minimum risk when regulations do change.  

How to prepare your FSQMS for Brexit food safety standards  

Now is the time to check the strength of your FSQMS so your business can adapt to Brexit readily. Here, we’re going to look beyond the every-day safety aspects of HACCP and focus on the need for agile tools and processes:  

  • Food labelling and certifications  

    One area that will see immediate changed in January 2021 is food and drink labelling. There are specific changes that will apply to domestic sales, sales to the EU and other international territories, depending on the product.  

    To take just a couple of examples: products of animal origin will need new health and identification marks, and some EU emblems – like ‘EU organic’ - will be disallowed unless an agreement is reached. To help ease this transition, there will be a ‘leeway’ period where produce that’s already on the market with old labelling can still be sold to avoid an excess of unused stock. 

    It’s important to note that the current guidelines are subject to change depending on any trade deal that is reached between the EU and the UK.  

    So there are three things that your FSQMS needs to be prepared for come 1st January 2021: new rules on labelling and certifications, the ability to track and plan stock levels based on old vs. new labelling, and the possibility of further change in the near future. 

    Solution: The best FSQM systems don’t just focus on detail – they should give you the agility to adapt your systems and processes easily when conditions change. The most labour saving and cost-effective way to do this is with software. An online and centralised FSQMS provides better oversight, checks and regulatory insight so your systems don’t fall behind when Brexit food standards move on. 

  • Training and induction  

    The strength of the training and induction programmes in your business depends on these things: how you identify the need for training, how you keep the content up to date and how the training is delivered. Each of these is crucial to making sure Brexit changes don’t affect the performance of staff. 

    Training should cover both the legal safety standards that your business needs to meet, plus any additional standards that your business has as a company. It should be an ongoing process, so it’s crucial to have a system that tracks when training has been completed and when any certifications are due to expire. Gaps in training can also be exposed by other data in your FSQMS – for example, an incident or a near-miss. 

    The content of training courses can easily go out of date when safety and quality regulations change. It’s a good idea to audit training content regularly, especially as the UK transitions through Brexit in January and beyond. 

    Solution: To help your teams keep up with the pace of change, you may want to consider an online learning management system (LMS). This makes training easier for learners to access, uses far fewer resources than on-site courses and gives management a better way to track the status and validity of training across the organisation.  
  • Supply chain oversight  

    Brexit food standards could affect many of your suppliers in terms of safety, quality and delivery time scales. Each of these things could have a negative impact on your bottom line and your brand reputation should something go wrong. A robust system for checking the certification and performance of suppliers can help keep standards high. This can be more complex if you operate across multiple jurisdictions. 

    Ideally, your FSQMS should extend to supplier oversight rather than being on a separate system. This improves traceability and accountability and is also a great source of business intelligence.  For example, you might find that Brexit standards affect your ability to import certain foods, that costs change or that your supplier isn’t meeting new regulations.  

    Sometimes, the teams that chose suppliers don’t have the full picture of their safety records or performance. Better data means that suppliers are less likely to get renewed if they no longer meet your business need. 

    Solution: Combining your supply chain quality oversight with your own FSQMS can be done easily with software. This will make it easier to share the right information with the right people, so business decisions are better informed. It will also help to centralise your traceability and accountability trails so nothing slips through the net.

  •   Reporting and analysis 

    The ability to analyse the data in your FSQMS and report the findings easily ties all of the above factors together. It will reveal the impact that Brexit food standards have oyour organisation and any challenges that need to be addressed. There could also be emerging trends and opportunities that you want to take advantage of at the earliest stage.  

    To get the most value from reporting and analysis, ask these questions: Are you able to draw live data from your FSQMS quickly and easily? Can you present and share that data in a way that informs business decisions? Are you asking the right questions of your data to begin with? 

    Your organisation’s ability to adapt to Brexit food standards – and indeed any change in standards – will need to be evidenced in audit reports. Your information will only be accurate if your safety and quality checklists have incorporated those changes immediately. 

    Solution:FSQMS software can have the advantage of automating the updates for you when regulations change. It can also give you ready-made reporting functions that align with your audit and commercial goals. These are the digital advantages that will make it easier to overcome any Brexit-related challenges.  

Your next steps: Prepare your FSQMS now for Brexit

With the uncertainty around Brexit food standards, this is a good time to assess how well your safety management systems can cope with change and complexity. Our food safety specialist, Paul Hastings, can help you assess the strength of your FSQMS and work with you to create a software package that meets the local and global needs of your business. Request a free consultation to find out how our FQMS software fits your business need.

Ideagen's Paul Hastings
Written by

Paul Hastings

Paul is an account manager with over 20 years of experience in multiple industries. Paul previously worked as Quality Manager for a major food production company in Scotland dealing with food safety incidents, customer complaints, quality checks and trend analysis. As a account manager in the AES team at Ideagen, an important element of Paul’s role is to understand the developing food and drink industries’ requirements and to help our customers manage these through implementation and use of our solutions.