With all of the inputs, processes and procedures that make up the food supply chain, managing product safety for the end user is an incredibly complex, yet crucial necessity. Consumers want to trust the food they consume while retailers and suppliers want to deliver on that commitment through consistently safe products and services.

After a wave of food safety incidents in the ’90s, from product recalls to public health safety crises, positive public opinion of the food industry declined. This left the industry in need of both immediate credibility reinvigoration and improvements to how food safety is addressed on a global scale.

Problems in the Food Supply Chain Arise
During the 1990s, food safety incidents were popping up around the globe. In 1998, citrus pulp contaminated with dioxins was discovered in Brazil. Just a year later in Belgium, animal feed contaminated with dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls affected more than 2,500 poultry and pig farms. Not only are findings like this potentially dangerous to the consumer, they also result in high costs for the entire supply chain. As a result of the animal feed incident, the Belgian economy lost between 1.5–2.0 million euros.

In an effort to ensure a safe food supply, retailers began requiring multiple audits to ensure compliance with regulations and internal quality requirements. Even a small recall negatively affects brand image and product integrity, making it critical to retailers and suppliers to provide consistent, high-quality products. These multiple audit requirements attempted to create greater checks and balances within the system.

In dealing with multiple internal and external quality and safety requirements, the numerous audits have not only been redundant, but also expensive. Furthermore, as the food supply became more global, there was no efficient means to maintain consistency across borders with varying requirements from region to region.

Solution to Audit Fatigue and Disparity in Requirements
In response to critique and frustration over the inconsistent quality of food products from region to region as well as the issue of multiple audit requirements, the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) was created in 2000. GFSI is an independent, non-profit organization led by major retailers that benchmarks global standards and schemes for the food industry.

This global benchmarking system paved the way for a comparable, global audit approach—something the industry desperately needed.

The goal of this organization is summed up simply, “Once Certified, Accepted Everywhere.” This approach is easier to manage and highly preferable for global companies because it provides the foundation for consistency in manufacturing, safety and audit processes—allowing for streamlined, focused efforts and efficient allocation of dollars.

It is important to note that GFSI does not develop standards or schemes, nor does GFSI provide certification. Producers, manufacturers and distributors that wish to be certified to a GFSI standard are audited by an independent third party that is an approved certifying body of the select standard.

Selecting a GFSI Standard
If a business wants to become certified to a GFSI-recognized standard or scheme, they should consider the following factors: First, what are the certification requirements of your buyer or customer? Second, do the standard’s elements apply to all business aspects of your buyer or customer’s products or processes? For example, if a business involves farming of animals and plants, the SQF GFSI standard may be the right choice. However, if an organization only involves production of food packaging, certifying to the IFSPacSecure scheme may make most sense. Lastly, it is important that the timing and availability of the certifying body aligns with the locations and timeline each business has established to complete its certification.

Current GFSI certification standards include:

• SQF – Safe Quality Food

• BRC – British Retail Consortium

• FSSC 22000 – Food Safety System Certification 22000

• IFS – International Featured Standard

• PrimusGFS

• GLOBALG.A.P. – Global Good Agricultural Practices

• CANADA GAP – Canada Good Agricultural Practices

• IFSPacSecure – covers Production of Food Packaging (only)

Once the standard has been selected, the certification process begins.

Certification Process
GFSI requires a successful third party audit and certification to the chosen standard or scheme. This process begins with an application to the accredited certifying body for certification. Next steps typically involve completion of a self-assessment, followed by training and assessment from the certifying body and, ultimately, a determination of compliance with the standard. All companies undergo re-certification annually.

Selecting a Certifying Body
Just as there are factors to consider when choosing a standard or scheme, there are also factors to consider when selecting a certifying body—the third party that will conduct the audit. These factors include:

Global availability for various locations: Does the certifier have the capacity to conduct its business at all of the company’s locations?

Calibrated auditors and technical expertise: What is the skill set of the certifiers; will they conduct a consistent, standardized audit?

Capacity and timing to meet certification needs: Does the certifier have accredited auditors available to perform the audit in the requested timeframe? Certification to BRC or SQF generally takes 6–9 months if the facility is well prepared and the certifying body is available.

Benefits of GFSI-Recognized Schemes
GFSI has driven collaboration and innovative practices for the food supply chain since its formation in 2000. Striving to help simplify the audit process and ensure a safer global food supply, its global benchmarking approach benefits all parties, from the manufacturer to the supplier, retailer and consumer.

Suppliers receive upfront savings from reduced audit costs. A supplier is able to satisfy more customer requirements with a single certification to a GFSI-selected standard, rather than multiple individual retailer audit requirements.
For retailers, the reduction of product recalls delivers immediate savings. Walmart has seen a 31 percent reduction in product recalls, and Cargill benefited from $5 million per year in savings due to a reduction in redundant audit costs—with an anticipated $15 million per year in savings when fully implemented. Fewer recalls also promotes a positive brand image and instills confidence in brand integrity.

Through the steps covered, companies are able to select the appropriate standard and go through the GFSI certification process in order to eliminate multiple audits, consistently provide a safer product and ensure maximum profits in the future.

Ron Shepard is the CEO of Shepard Bros., a supplier of custom specialty chemicals and application support services. For more information, visit www.shepardbros.com.