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GFSI: The Next Phase
Will focus on smaller suppliers in developing countries
by Mark Pickup
The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is due to complete the first test phase of a tool that was specially developed for small suppliers around the world. The official launch will come next February at the Global Food Safety Conference in London.
GFSI began work on this program in late 2008 in order to assist smaller or less developed suppliers—with a special focus on developing countries—to achieve the basic levels of food safety they must ensure to do business with today’s major retailers, food service operators, and manufacturers around the world. Against a background of ever longer and more complex supply chains and increasing consumer pressure to reduce the carbon footprints of food products, whether or not the program is needed is clearly a moot point.
The program’s key objective is to provide a common approach to food safety at the lowest possible cost to the supplier while allowing for continuous improvement that leads, over a three-year period and by means of an intermediate level, to formal certification to a GFSI recognized food safety scheme. Its intention is to create opportunities for the less-developed or smaller supplier to progress from supplying on a strictly local basis to being able to export. The concept provides an excellent opportunity for local sourcing and increased trade opportunities over time.
The First Level
The first level of the program was developed based on the internal requirements of a number of major companies. These were combined with Codex Alimentarius to produce requirements covering three areas: food safety systems (specifications, traceability, incident management, non-conforming products, and corrective actions), good manufacturing practices (personal hygiene, facility environment, pest and contamination control, water quality, and cleaning and disinfection), and control of food hazards (including allergens).
The program involved, from a very early stage, internationally acknowledged food safety experts; academics; representatives of service providers and certification bodies; major international bodies, such as the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); and a wide variety of other stakeholders, both public and private. Clearly, the program’s organizers recognize the fact that a collaborative approach to building trade capacity is the best way to establish consensus and avoid the proliferation of schemes and standards around the world.
The Global Markets Working Group, established in 2009 at a meeting in Chicago, decided the program’s scope would cover the manufacturing, distribution, and storage of processed foods and the preparation of primary products, initially for the purposes of local sourcing, manufacturing, and selling. The group also decided, in the interests of cost efficiency and simplicity, that the approach to achieving the continuous improvement desired would be based on unaccredited assessment of the supplier along with an additional checklist for the supplier’s self-assessment.
Whereas the emphasis of the global markets program is very much on the commercial supplier/customer relationship, an opportunity was nevertheless identified to develop a training program that would take the company requirements and translate them into a set of competencies needed by any employees with responsibility for food safety, even those working for a small supplier. The concept was designed to be inexpensive, effective, and accessible to all food safety professionals, irrespective of a company’s size.
By the end of 2009, a total of 18 local Egyptian suppliers had been trained and assessed. Between the pre- and post-assessment there was an overall 45% improvement in their scores, with 78% achieving a pass at the post-assessment stage.
An Extended Work Phase
Given the groundbreaking nature of the global markets program and the need to “get it right” before going public, the working group decided to embark on an extended test phase evaluating both the requirements themselves and the suitability of the chosen approach. At the same time, the training program would test the potential for extending the program to individual food safety professionals.
Once the company requirements had been translated into a battery of 89 individual competencies, tests were carried out in late 2009. The first was organized in Chennai, India, and resulted in a 19% improvement rate among participants between pre- and post-assessments held either before or after a three-day training course. Other tests, conducted through e-learning and on a face-to-face basis in India and China, produced similar results.
The working group went on to organize the first test for the basic level requirements of the global markets program for companies. The pilot was conducted with the help of Metro/Makro Cash & Carry, a self-service wholesaler, at its location in Egypt, in conjunction with UNIDO’s local organization, E-Trace. By the end of 2009, a total of 18 local Egyptian suppliers had been trained and assessed. Between the pre- and post-assessment there was a 45% improvement in their overall scores, with 78% achieving a pass at the post-assessment stage.
Encouraged by these early results, the group is now testing the program in the Ukraine. Malaysia is next on the list, followed by Morocco. There are also plans to test in Chile, Brazil, and Pakistan.
The intermediate level of the program is under development, with the final round of consultation launched in April. The plan is for the intermediate level to include 70% of the key elements of the GFSI guidance document (the basic level only contains 30%), which is internationally recognized as the benchmark for food safety standards and schemes worldwide.
Intermediate Level in Development
The intermediate level of the program is under development, with the final round of consultation launched in April. The plan is for the intermediate level to include 70% of the key elements of the GFSI guidance document (the basic level only contains 30%), which is internationally recognized as the benchmark for food safety standards and schemes worldwide. This next level also borrows from Codex Standard CAC/RCP 1-1969 Rev 4-2003 to integrate the Recommended International Code of Practice, general principles of food hygiene, and the hazard analysis and critical control points system.
Even after completion of the test phase for the basic level requirements and the finalization of the intermediate level requirements, certain other issues will still need to be addressed, including finalization of the detailed protocol for implementation, which will be updated during the remaining pilots.
Assuming the successful completion of the pilots and tests, the program will have to be extended to other parts of the supply chain; the emphasis has so far been on the small manufacturer. To this end, a working group focusing on primary production has been established and will deliver its feedback by the end of this year. Before that can happen, the basic and intermediate levels will be finalized for the official launch at the annual Global Food Safety Conference in London next February.
Recognition of the need to provide solutions for smaller operators, the willingness of the working group members to get it right, and consultation and validation at every step of the process with the GFSI board of directors and wider stakeholders makes this a truly unique and outstanding program. In addition, GFSI has provided a relevant, truly business-driven entity, one that will lend itself to the ongoing development of trade opportunities and continuous improvement for smaller suppliers. ■