The certification conundrum

Certification programs have become a big business in the food industry. Some companies are willing to certify anything, provided you pay them enough money. 

Richard F. Stier

Many processors wonder if certification is worth the money, if the certifiers are honest and use proper standards, and most importantly, if certification provides any guarantees.

I recently visited a potential client who was upset and frightened. This contract packager’s customer mandated that his company implement an FDA-certified Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) program. 

Of course, when the packager contacted the Food and Drug Administration, the agency said it has no such service nor is there an FDA standard for this certification.  Many in our industry do not realize that Good Manufacturing Practice in Manufacturing, Packing or Holding Human Food is an interpretive regulation, not a standard.

In September 2005, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) issued ISO 22000, “Food Safety Management Systems – Requirements for Any Organization in the Food Chain.”  The standard incorporates elements of HACCP (hazard analysis critical control point) and the quality programs of ISO 9000.  The intent was to create an auditable food safety standard. This is a true standard, whereas the Codex document, “Recommended International Code of Practice General Principles of Food Hygiene,” which includes information on good manufacturing practices and HACCP, is not. Common sense should make most people realize that standards are not titled “recommended.” Yet I have seen companies with certificates posted that read:

“The management system of Company X has been assessed and certified as meeting the requirements of HACCP Codex Alimentarius, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system and guidelines for its application annex to CAC/RCP-1-1969, Rev. 4 (2003).” 

“The management system of Company X has been assessed and certified as meeting the requirements of Good Manufacturing Practice, Recommended International Code of Practices, General Principles of Food Hygiene, CAC/RCP-1-1969, Rev. 4 (2003).

Auditor competency

There is a grave misconception that anyone who is trained as an auditor can audit any operation. One of the ongoing battles stemming from the enactment of ISO 22000 is the definition of plant auditor qualifications. Food safety is more than just documentation. It is an all encompassing system that includes prerequisite programs, training, HACCP plan, verification and validation activities and more. As a result, the technical committee who developed the ISO 22000 standard wrote ISO/TS 22003, “Food Safety Management Systems - Requirements for bodies providing audits and certification of food safety management systems.” This standard defines auditor competencies under ISO 22000.  It defines knowledge and application of audit principles, management systems, HACCP, prerequisite programs and products and processes specific to the sector of the food chain under audit.  This standard was finalized on February 15, 2007.

Buyer beware

Be cautious when spending money on certifications.  In some cases, they aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.  Used correctly, certification is a valuable tool that can help build markets, ensure product quality and enhance production efficiencies. Before pursuing any certification program, decide why you need it, set goals and do it right. If you demand certain programs and a vendor states it can get a certificate in a few weeks, consider walking away immediately.

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