Food Safety
TECH FLASH

The ABCs of GFSI

With FSMA heading towards finalization, GFSI accreditation goes a long way in securing a successful FSMA audit and getting a leg up on competitors

June 25, 2014
The ABCs of GFSI
GFSI was created by The Consumer Forum, and administers international accreditation bodies and various schemes, including BRC, SQF, IFS and FSSC 22000—among others. This graphic is from the Mettler whitepaper, “Achieving Global Certification in Food Safety and Quality.” Source: Mettler-Toledo.

Sponsored by Mettler-Toledo, the 2014 Food Safety Exchange Event took place in Philadelphia earlier this month. On June 17th, the event featured an overview and update of four GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) schemes presented by direct representatives from each scheme. After a keynote address, “Food Safety Modernization Act: Understanding the Challenges and Achieving Compliance,” presented by Jim Cook, SGS North America, presenters from IFS/Pac Secure, FSSC 22000, BRC and SQF brought attendees up to date on the latest inclusions and versions of their GFSI schemes.

Also included in the two-day event were discussions on “Food Safety Supply Chain Management,” “Risk Assessment, Technical Team Leadership and GFSI Benchmarking,” “Risk Management Under FSMA,” and “Vendor Management & Approved Supplier Program: Harnessing the Power of People to Get the Job Done.”

As each GFSI scheme presenter described the latest news about his/her certification program, it was obvious they shared one message—food processors should invest in GFSI certification for two broad reasons: food safety and business advantage.

As with the risk-based, preventive controls aspect of FSMA, each GFSI scheme focuses on preventive controls, and is non-prescriptive i.e., food processors must set their own food safety rules that fit their operations and follow them religiously. Will a BRC, SQF, FSSC 22000 or an IFS/PAC Secure certification guarantee passing a FSMA audit? Most likely, yes. All the schemes will prepare the processor with what’s needed to pass FSMA muster, with the possible exception of FDA’s radiological proposed regulations, which are now being included in GFSI schemes as well. Beyond the food safety provisions, most GFSI schemes also focus on quality.

Acquiring GFSI certification—whether it’s BRC, SQF, FSSC 22000 or IFS/PAC Secure—shows a processor took the time and effort to study its processes and make them safe and efficient. It also provides a definite business advantage over those who haven’t received certification. For instance, some retail chains now require GFSI certification, so without certification, a processor can’t sell to that chain.

But more important, each GFSI certification scheme forces a processor to look at its KPIs and continuously improve its operation. According to George Ganser, IFS marketing & business development, a processor that follows the IFS/PAC Secure path will improve not only food safety, but also quality. Getting certified reduces customer complaints because the processor has made quality a full-time pursuit. In addition, obtaining GFSI certification improves employee hygiene and reduces sick time.

According to John Kukoly, BRC senior manager, processors that obtained GFSI certification achieved a 38 percent reduction in recalls, as determined in a University of Arkansas/Walmart study. In addition, one major US distributor reported a 40 percent reduction in customer complaints about food quality. In a BRC-conducted survey among 21,000 BRC-certified sites, 85 percent of respondents said going through the process was worth it, and 67 percent said certification helped them grow their business. BRC’s approach has been to improve food safety and drive continual improvement.

How does a processor gain a business advantage after achieving certification? In a nutshell, Kukoly suggests, “Celebrate internally, market externally and educate your customers.” After all, the certification shows customers the processor has done its homework, and having this certification may be the deciding factor for a customer who needs to choose a supplier—especially if the other supplier doesn’t have the certification.

At June’s Food Safety Exchange Event, John Schulz, Safe Quality Foods Institute senior director, business operations, brought attendees up to date on SQF 7.2, to be released later this year. SQF certification at Level 2 shows processors have done all they need to pass the certification based on GFSI food safety. SQF Level 3 kicks it up another notch, showing processors have also taken the extra steps toward quality. In version 7.2 of its standards, SQF audits will become somewhat unannounced (within a 10-day to two-week period) and this is a new experimental step being taken), a new experimental step, which has garnered GFSI’s interest.

According to FSSC 22000’s US liaison, Jacqueline Southee, FSSC 22000 was benchmarked by GFSI in 2011 and is based on ISO 22000, 22003, 22002-1 and 17021 with BSI’s PAS 220/223 (prerequisite programs). Based in The Netherlands, this scheme is flexible enough to allow processors to customize the standards by which they are judged in obtaining certification. Because this scheme is based in ISO standards, processors that have already used ISO standards often opt for FSSC 22000 certification. (FSSC 22000 now includes packaging and animal feed within its certification.)

While a certification from any GFSI scheme should be enough to satisfy a customer’s requirements, obtaining a specific GFSI certification is often based on the needs of the processor. For example, some schemes may be more fined tuned to a product line than another, or may fit a processor’s operation better than others.

One common thread was noted by each scheme's representative: Even if a processor has obtained a GFSI certification, positive results will not occur if senior management is not involved. The entire GFSI process—from GAP analysis and preparation to auditing and achieving the certification—is not an event that occurs only at the operations level. If senior management cannot see both the food safety value and business benefits of a GFSI certification, it will lose all the benefits a certification program can offer.

Mettler will provide these presentations on its web site (www.foodsafetyexchange.com) in a few weeks. Last year’s presentations are now on the site.

For more information:

Food Safety System Certification FSSC 22000

British Retail Consortium BRC Global Standards

Safe Quality Foods Institute SQF

International Featured Standards IFS

Mettler-Toledo: Regulatory Compliance: Meet Global Food Safety Standards

Reference: Achieving Global Certification in Food Safety & Quality, Mettler-Toledo white paper, 2-2012. (Free).

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