Verification, Validation Key to Helping Food Companies Comply with GFSI Standards
by John Petie
Today’s customer is more informed than ever. Whether shopping for groceries, serving as a retail store manager, or placing an order at a restaurant, people want to know about and trust the companies they buy from and learn about the ingredients, production, and quality of the food they consume.
This consumer concern, which is not limited to one particular group or geography, can make or break the financial success, public image, and popularity of a business or food product overnight. Companies now have an obligation to inform consumers about how their food products are made.
With this obligation for transparency comes the need to peel back the curtain on food safety. While consumers’ desire for knowledge about the makeup of their meals grows, so does their need to be reassured about food safety measures that are implemented across the entire supply chain—from the retailer to the manufacturer and processor—and all the way back to the farm itself.
Tracing food back to the farm or factory source will typically cross county or state lines–even national borders and oceans. According to FDA figures, the U.S. imported $49 billion worth of food in 2011 from nations such as China, Mexico, Canada, Japan, and Brazil.
The amount of food imported into the U.S. continues to grow as Americans consume more products not locally available or not grown in abundance to meet demand. Additionally, cheaper labor costs overseas often mean less expensive fish, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and red meat from other countries than the same food grown on local farms.
Because of the ever-growing sourcing of food from overseas in an increasingly complex world, certification and inspection across global markets is essential to ensure that this international sourcing—and the entire supply chain for that matter—is protected and operationally efficient on all fronts.
Success in today’s food supply industry requires an unwavering commitment to food safety—a significant challenge for most companies, especially those that are global and with worldwide operations serving tens of thousands of customers.
Keystone Foods, for example, is a leading global supplier of protein products and a customized food-service distributor serving more than 35,000 quick-service restaurants, major food service and industrial companies, and retail outlets around the world. The company needed to obtain certification to a GFSI standard for all seven U.S. Proteins division facilities within a 12-month period. In order to achieve this goal and meet the company’s aggressive timelines and certification expectations, Keystone hired TÜV SÜD America, a testing, inspection, and certification organization, to meet its certification goals.
The amount of food imported into the U.S. continues to grow as Americans consume more products not locally available or not grown in abundance to meet demand.
International certification bodies can provide this peace of mind and reassurance for manufacturers’ food safety measures on a global scale and create a unique partnership between a certification body and the business. Along with helping to solve food safety issues, a third-party certification body brings tremendous business value and outside expertise, helping the business apply strict and regular processes throughout the supply chain.
Two of these key processes are verification and validation. Verification and validation are independent of one another but are used in combination to set up a system of checks and balances for a product, service, or system.
While verification and validation share some similarities, there is a key difference between the two practices: Validation is ensuring that what you say you do to reduce risk to an acceptable level is achieving the intended result, while verification confirms that you have done what you have said you will do and that you have achieved the desired result.
Validation, as applied to control measures, seeks to prove that the intended result from a food safety perspective was achieved and that it actually worked. Generally, most validation activities involve reviewing regulatory requirements as they relate to food safety and making sure the facility’s processes are achieving the requirements. Verification, on the other hand, is meant to prove that the control measure was done according to its design. Through verification and validation, a company is able to build a robust food safety due diligence defense and comply with HACCP and GFSI programs.
To put it in perspective, when a company uses a large industrial oven, more than a half-dozen factors that could potentially negatively affect food safety are at play. From the temperature and timing of the oven to the quality of its parts to the knowledge of employees and the handling of cooked products, verification and validation exist to ensure this process goes smoothly with all variables taken into account.
But a company should not stop here. Reviewing processes and protocols every time there is a change in production, ingredients, and cooking temperature is also essential. Violation of even the most basic food safety protocols could lead to the next E. coli or Listeria outbreak, resulting in widespread brand damage, negative press, and tainted consumer perception. It can heighten the current need for transparency and trust among individuals.
For Keystone Foods, the challenge was to obtain certification to a GFSI standard for all seven U.S. Proteins division facilities within a 12-month period.
With regard to putting food safety measures into practice, the responsibility falls on businesses to ensure that food safety measures across global markets are sound and that any changes to processes or products are performed in a manner that in no way compromises food safety.
It should be noted that trust in business comes from minimizing risk. While there is never an absolute guarantee against a food product recall, a business can reduce risk and increase food safety measures by minimizing the number of variables. All GFSI programs are designed to be risk reduction strategies for businesses. Third-party experts will help identify potential food safety issues, adding significant value to businesses and ultimately increasing the level of trust consumers have in a brand.
Most importantly, the safety and quality of the finished product landing in a consumer’s shopping cart are directly linked to the quality and safety of the original ingredients. By conducting product testing, ensuring that the specifications for preparing food are accurate, and implementing inspection protocols in an appropriate manner, food safety can literally be “designed” into a product rather than waiting for inspection during the process or at the finish line. Using the correct procedures from the beginning of the production process is essential.
As the need for transparency and trust grows, so does the requirement to deliver on a promise for food safety. Consumers want visibility from farm to fork. It’s time for companies to give it to them.
John Petie is the Food Safety Program Manager at TÜV SÜD America. With more than 30 years of experience in the industry, He has been with TÜV SÜD America since 2011 and has spent his career at blue-chip manufacturers and certification organizations.