Tightness in the commodity market, the resulting rising prices of raw materials, personnel shortages and rising energy costs create many challenges for companies these days. These challenges mean that product integrity can come under pressure. How is your organization dealing with the challenges in today’s market? Have you thought about this?
It is important to be alert to this in order to ensure the reliability of your products and meet customer requirements. So, product integrity is a topic that is becoming increasingly important and it is expected that consumers increasingly demand product integrity.
We are sure you have noticed that incidents involving product integrity occur regularly. Not only in food fraud, but also, for example, unsubstantiated or untrue claims, unreported allergens or cross-contamination on the label.
The definition of product integrity is: the assurance that the product fully complies with what is communicated about it (all elements of the product specification) and what can be expected on that basis (including marketing claims).
Food fraud, for example substitution or dilution always is a deliberate act, done for economic gain. In practice, you also have to deal with unintentional integrity issues. Here the goal is not to make profit, but it is about meeting promises. For example, something is promised on the packaging, that for some reason is not fulfilled. However, the customer expects this to happen, creating an integrity issue. Unintentional integrity issues can arise, among other things, as a result of wrongdoing due to ignorance, laziness or carelessness. If, as a result, your product no longer meets specifications, the outside world may also view this as fraud. If you as a company have to deal with this, your company image can be severely damaged with a possible decrease in trust from customers and consumers as a consequense. To test product integrity, IFS has developed an assessment called IFS PIA.
PIA stands for Product Integrity Assessment. Released in April 2019 in collaboration with Dutch retailers (Albert Heijn, Jumbo and Superunie), IFS PIA is a standard that examines the entire product integrity. It is an assessment, not a certification resulting in a score. However, it is, for example, a requirement for being allowed to use the claim ‘Pig of Tomorrow’. This assessment goes much further and deeper than we are used to with food safety standards. It examines to what extent the entire company adequately deals with product integrity risks and how it has ensured this. Data integrity also plays a big role in this. So, it includes not only production processes, but also administrative processes, raw materials, packaging materials and market statements (such as claims, but also website texts and other marketing statements). Therefore involving all departments in an organization.
The standard has the following seven criteria chapters:
Some examples of requirements that stand out because they differ from GFSI standards are that:
The implementation of the standard requires an effort from all departments within your organization. From the purchasing department for monitoring purchase prices and the HR department for a whistleblower policy to a procedure for monitoring payments for the finance department and a procedure for dealing with inappropriate (financial) pressure by buyers (sales and management department). In addition, much is demanded in the area of tracking and claim verification (production and quality department). So the challenge not only lies in integrating product integrity into the certified management system, but especially in incorporating product integrity into the corporate DNA.
In practice, our consultants see that during the assessment of the IFS PIA, the organization is looked at with a totally different lens than with regular food safety standards. The key question during the assessment is ‘Does the organization meet the customer’s specifications and claims?’. Anything that poses a threat is scrutinized.
What is notable here is that retailers can pass on areas of concern to the assessor in advance, such as which product they would like to see traced. In our experience this is regularly done on the basis of complaints. While the expectation beforehand was that this would mainly focus on the risk of fraud.
Our consultants also see that the preparation of mass balances, batch passports and the verification of all batch passports with specific claims is a major challenge for customers. For ‘Where is the limit of acting with integrity in large-scale production?’. In this case a lot is asked of an organization’s (administrative) tracking system. Such demands are difficult to achieve with a paper-based tracking system leading to many companies needing to invest in further automation of logistics and tracking systems.
IFS PIA encourages you as an organization to start looking at your business processes and your own actions with completely different eyes. This may be a blind spot for your company, in which case it is enlightening to have an expert with an independent view. This provides you with new insights and a clear plan of action.