Supplier audits have long been an inherent part of retail and industry. In the past, audits have been carried out by the retailers quality assurance departments. Now the situation has changed because of growing demands of consumers, the rising incidence of claims for damages and the globalisation of commodity flow have put the development of a uniform standard on the agenda. Also a solution had to be found to reduce the costs associated with a multitutde of audits, for both retailers and suppliers. At an international level, the "The Global Food Safety Initiative" was created, seeting up a general framework with its "Guidance Document".
In 2002, in order to create a common food safety standard, German food retailers from the HDE (Hauptverband des Deutschen Einzelhandels) have developed a common audit standard called International Food Standard or IFS. In 2003, French food retailers (and wholesalers) from the FCD (Fédération des entreprises du Commerce et de la Distribution) have joined the IFS Working Group and have contributed to development of IFS version 4.

The aim of the IFS is to create a consistent evaluation system for all companies supplying retailer branded food products with uniform formulations, uniform audit procedures and mutual acceptance of audits, which will create a high level of transparency throughout the supply chain.

The IFS defines requirements in content, procedure and evaluation of audits and a requirement profile for the certification bodies and auditors.

Structure of the IFS (catalogue of requirements):

·     Management of the Quality System
·     Management Responsibility
·     Resource Management
·     Product Realisation
·     Measurements, Analyses, Improvements

The auditor will audit against the IFS standard which is divided into two levels plus recommendation on higher level:

Foundation level: These criteria are considered as minimum requirements for the international food industry.
Higher level: These criteria are considered as a high standard in the food industry.

Recommendations: These criteria are recommended for all auditees, who wish to demonstrate "best practice" in the sector.


In the chapter "Management of the Quality System" requirements concerning the HACCP system, the HACCP team and the HACCP analysis are defined. It also contains rules for the quality manual and the obligation to keep reports and documents. The chapter "Management responsibility" deals with the responsibility of the management, the management commitment, the management review and the customer focus. The chapter "Resource Management" gives attention to the personnel issues (hygiene, medical screening) and staff facilities. The chapter "Product Realisation" is the most extensive one. It considers topics about e.g. specifications for products, factory environment, pest control, maintenance, traceability; GMO and allergen. The last chapter, "Measurements, Analyses, Improvements", deals with e.g. internal audit, all kind of controls during production steps, product analysis and corrective actions.

The requirements for auditors and the certification bodies are strictly regulated. All certification bodies shall have an accreditation against EN 45011 on IFS - International Food Standard. Only authorised auditors who have passed a written and oral examination can audit against the standard. The auditor shall have professional knowledge of the IFS. The auditors can only audit against their competence in a certain sector (at least 2 years professional experience in the specific sector or at least 10 audits in this sector). Finally, auditors who comply with these requirements shall only work for one IFS certification body accredited for auditing against the IFS.

An Internet audit portal has been developed. It contains an on-line database that provides all important and necessary information about the audits. There is a section available for everybody but the main part of the audit portal is not open for the public. Only retailers, audited companies (suppliers) and certification bodies can gain access. Every passed audit report with IFS certificate will be included in the online database. Only the name and the address of the audited company/branch are published. The audited company can choose to make more details of his audit available to his customers by giving them a specific access. Otherwise this information are strictly confidential.