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Adopting GFSI Approved Schemes to Strengthen Food Safety Initiatives
by Ron Vail and Sonal Sinha
Incidents of Salmonella poisoning and several other food contamination cases led to the formation of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) in 2000. Today, the GFSI is a trusted source for food safety and quality standards/ schemes that enable the continuous improvement of food safety management systems. GFSI approved food safety schemes are adopted by food manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers to earn the trust of their customers and the support of global partners.
GFSI helps establish these uniform and consistent international food safety standards and approved schemes to act as international quality benchmarks in the food industry. They address three important factors: (1) Food Safety Management; (2) Good Manufacturing Practices, Good Distribution Practices, and Good Agricultural Practices; and (3) Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP).
The advantage of the GFSI approved standards is that they are flexible, and can therefore be cost-effectively integrated with other food safety guidelines and mandates. They also enhance compliance with regulations such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Overview of Key GFSI Standards
There are currently 10 GFSI recognized standards or schemes which incorporate GFSI’s basic benchmarking factors, and are developed by different owners. Some of these standards include the following.
1. Safe Quality Food (SQF) Owned by the Food Marketing Institute. An SQF certification indicates that a company’s food safety and quality management program is in compliance with global and local food safety regulations. SQF standards govern the complete food supply chain—right from primary food manufacturing and ingredient manufacturing, to product packaging and distribution.
An initial SQF audit is divided into two components, a desktop and a facility audit. The desktop audit can be a day or a day and a half days and the facility audit can take two and a half to five days depending on the size. The recertification audit covers only the facility audit and can extend two and a half to five days depending on size. At the end, the auditee receives one of the following grades: E, G, or C. The first two grades require an annual re-audit, while a C grade requires a semi-annual surveillance audit.
All major non-conformances discovered during the audit have to be closed in 14 days, while minor non-conformances need to be addressed in 30 days.
2. British Retail Consortium (BRC) Food Standard. The BRC scheme can be leveraged by food manufacturers, as well as retailers. It requires all entities in the food supply chain to detect, monitor, and control food safety hazards. It also specifies legal due diligence activities for suppliers and retailers.
A BRC audit takes three to five days to complete based on the size and complexity of the process. Auditees receive an A, B, or C grade. While A and B grades call for annual re-audits, C calls for a semi-annual re-audit.
Auditees are given 14 days to close major non-conformances, and 28 days for minor non-conformances.
3. International Featured Standards (IFS). The IFS certification is relevant to companies that process or deal with both food and food ingredients. IFS standards cover safety criteria for food transportation, packaging, storage, and/or distribution of pre-packaged food. They also include senior management responsibilities, food quality and safety management, resource management, and production processes.
An IFS audit takes two days and assigns audit grades of A, B, C, or D. Auditees get six weeks to clear major non-conformances, and 12 months to clear minor ones.
4. Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) 22000. FSSC 22000 is one of the most popular food safety standards. It can be used to certify a whole range of food manufacturing companies of varying sizes and complexities.
An FSSC 22000 audit can take four to five days, and involves a document review, followed by a facility evaluation. What’s different about this audit is that there is no grading or scoring. The auditor provides a recommendation to the certification body, and then the certification body, in collaboration with the auditor, makes the final decision.
Auditees have up to 180 days to close out non-conformances.
Preparing For a GFSI Certification
The first step towards getting a GFSI-certification is to obtain a copy of the relevant GFSI standard or scheme, and then sign up with a certification body. The company that is getting certified must establish a Food Safety Team. Their role is to conduct self-assessments, and identify gaps in the food safety system that are inconsistent with the chosen GFSI scheme.
The next step is to schedule an optional pre-certification audit. This audit simulates the official GFSI audit, and helps a company get a fair idea about their existing level of conformance with the chosen GFSI standard.
After a company has completed these steps, they can schedule a full certification audit with the chosen certification body. During the audit, the company’s documented system is evaluated against set standards. Employees are interviewed, and records are examined. If any non-conformance is observed, remedial action is implemented. This is followed by a technical review where an authorized certification manager decides whether or not to issue a certificate.
Issuance of a certificate does not spell the end of the process. Re-certification audits have to be scheduled at defined intervals.
How Can Technology Help
Technology can help companies simplify food safety management and compliance with GFSI-approved standards through a streamlined, automated, and integrated approach. Advanced technology systems with sophisticated architecture can support the end-to-end process of planning and implementing GFSI food safety schemes.
Here are a few key areas where technology helps:
Compliance: Integrated technology systems enable companies to centrally manage multiple GFSI standards and requirements. They also facilitate a systematic and collaborative approach to the process of creating, reviewing, communicating, and updating GFSI compliance policies. Central data repositories make it easy to store, update, access, and even map together related food safety records and GFSI standards.
Hazard Analysis and Risk Management: Risk assessment tools such as risk heat maps, risk calculators, and scorecards help in identifying, analyzing, and prioritizing food quality and safety risks -- including the risks in the supply chain. The latest risk management systems also feature tools to conduct a hazard analysis, and proactively address areas of concern before they spiral into major issues. Companies can leverage these tools to conduct quantitative and qualitative hazard/risk assessments, and also determine the impact, likelihood, severity, and frequency of hazards/risks. Based on this risk data, companies can implement measures and controls to mitigate the risks, and enhance compliance with the GFSI standards.
Preventive Controls Management: After food safety risks have been identified and assessed, technology systems can facilitate the process of creating and managing appropriate controls, including process controls, food allergen controls, and sanitation controls. Many systems feature mechanisms to assess and score controls, as well as define and monitor critical control points and thresholds.
Audit management: Companies can use audit management systems to automate and enable a variety of audits, including food quality and safety audits, as well as supplier audits, surveys, and certifications—all of which help in preparing for a GFSI audit. Integrated audit management systems provide the ability to centrally manage audit resources, schedules, and checklists. Advanced offline audit systems enable audit data collection even in remote locations which have no access to the Internet—auditors can still gather their data electronically, and later synchronize it with the central database.
Corrective Action Management: When an audit or non-conformance issue is identified, technology can help automate the corrective action process. Automatic notifications and alerts can be sent to task owners and suppliers to accelerate the process. Advanced data analytics and trending tools can simplify and strengthen root cause analyses of the non-conformances and other safety issues. Alongside, Web-based collaborative systems can strengthen communication between companies and their suppliers, so that corrective actions are effectively addressed and closed.
Customer Complaints Management: Technology can help customers record their food safety or quality complaints in a simple and convenient manner. These complaints can then be automatically routed to the appropriate stakeholders for review and analysis. Complaints management systems also help initiate a root cause analysis and investigation into the problem area. Action plans can then be created and implemented to address the complaints.
Training Management: The latest Web-based solutions provide the ability to conduct streamlined and effective training programs for employees, suppliers, and other key stakeholders on GFSI and other food safety compliance standards.
Reporting: This is one area where technology can be very useful. Automated reporting tools can eliminate the inconvenience of manual spreadsheets, and speed up the process of consolidating critical food safety data and metrics for analysis. Meanwhile, graphical dashboards can enable management teams to closely track the status of food safety management and GFSI programs across the global enterprise in a real-time manner.
The GFSI food safety standards help companies ensure that their products and processes align with the highest international standards of food quality and safety. Adhering to the comprehensive food safety requirements specified by GFSI strengthens brand value and product integrity. It also enables companies to efficiently manage many complex supply chain challenges. What’s more, the products of GFSI certified companies have the potential to benefit from greater acceptance in global markets. Companies that are committed to good food processes and improved consumer confidence would do well to embrace GFSI approved schemes, and enhance their food safety programs, with the support of technology.
Vail is director, Food Safety and GFSI Education, at AIB International. Reach him at RVAIL@aibonline.org. Sinha is associate vice president industry solutions at MetricStream. Reach her at email@example.com.
NOTE: This article has been adopted from a detailed MetricStream Insight article on “Strengthen Food Safety Management Programs by Adopting the Right GFSI Recognized Standard.”
How to Choose the Right GFSI Scheme
Assess the various GFSI approved standards. Determine which of them is best aligned with your food safety processes. For suppliers, this decision will depend on the standards that are mandated by customers, including retailers.
Access and understand the scheme documents that are relevant to your business. For instance, FSSC 22000 is based on standards such as ISO/TS 22002-1, PAS 223, and PAS 222. In turn, ISO/TS 22002-1 is relevant to food processors and manufacturers, PAS 223 to food packaging manufacturers, and PAS 222 to animal feed producers.
Get the complete support of your senior management for a GFSI certification.
What Happens in a GFSI Audit
• An in-depth review of management commitment, quality systems, product control procedures, and process controls
• Systematic investigations of all relevant records and SOPs
• Identification of discrepancies and non-conformances
• Corroboration of documentation with floor observations