There is always more to learn about GFSI! In the months since stepping into the role of Director last October, I’ve been focused on truly understanding the all facets of the critical and unique role GFSI plays in the global food safety ecosystem.
As part of this process, I’ve encountered a few misconceptions surrounding GFSI’s mission and activities. Some confusion is inevitable; GFSI is part of an ever-more complex global food safety system, and its role is a multifaceted one. A crucial element of our work is to support a vast network of independent food safety auditors, yet it became clear to me when I began this work that there is deep confusion about the interplay between food safety professionals and GFSI.
Below, I’ve cleared up some myths and explained GFSI’s relationship with audits and auditors, certification bodies and regulatory frameworks.
Myth #1: GFSI hires auditors and conducts audits.
Reality: GFSI lays out stringent requirements on auditor training, experience and competence, but does not employ, train or accredit auditors, nor does GFSI conduct on-site food safety audits.
Auditors are employed by certification bodies (CBs), contracted by certification programme owners (CPOs) to carry out audits according to the CPOs’ scopes and standards. Only the CPOs that meet GFSI’s stringent requirements, which involve a seven-step, 10-month initial evaluation process, can become GFSI-recognised. Companies that have achieved certification through a recognised CPO have a so-called ‘GFSI-recognised certificate’ but are not certified by GFSI. We do not issue certifications in our own right.
Despite the degrees of separation between GFSI and auditors, we seriously value all professional auditors supporting our work. Food safety auditors, especially those employed by CBs that operate within GFSI-recognised CPOs, are highly-trained, competent professionals whose role in the assuring the safety of the food system should not be underestimated.
Myth #2: The food safety industry is a stable, predictable field.
Reality: GFSI is sounding the alarm about an impending shortage of qualified food safety professionals.
I would be remiss if I did not also sound the alarm that not only is the global movement of food ever changing and increasingly complex, but the field of qualified food safety professionals is steadily declining. GFSI takes very seriously its role to collaboratively build solutions to collective issues and we plan to put its unique convening power to use in addressing this issue head on.
Our first step is developing a plan to attract more qualified candidates to the field, especially the recent graduates who will become the future vanguard of food safety. In the face of an impending shortage, we encourage food safety stakeholders to adopt proactive recruitment efforts and to share with us their best ideas for safeguarding and expanding this profession for the future.
Myth #3: Companies that achieve GFSI-recognised certification only need to be audited once.
Reality: Companies with GFSI-recognised certification must undergo regular audits to ensure continued compliance to CPO standards.
GFSI’s ‘once certified, recognised everywhere’ approach aims to avoid superfluous audits and thereby reduce trade barriers. This does not mean that GFSI recommends to solely rely on third-party certification from GFSI-recognised programmes to manage food safety. Rather, our ambition is to reduce the need for multiple third-party food safety audits, while recognising the value of customer audits, surveillance and monitoring programmes, and of course regulatory inspections. All contribute in their own way to safer food and confidence in the food supply chain.
Focusing on ensuring robust third-party food safety certification, we follow a stringent approach with our GFSI-recognised CPOs. The initial recognition process typically takes about 10 months and takes the CPO through several steps of assessments (e.g. desktop office audits, and public stakeholder consultation). To then maintain recognition, CPOs must undergo an annual re-evaluation. The initial recognition process is repeated each time we issue a new version of our Benchmarking Requirements – or when a new version of the Certification Programme is issued – which is quite regularly, so as to ensure we stay up to date with food safety trends.
Our Benchmarking Requirements include expectations from the CBs and the auditing community; the CPOs have to ensure those are applied by the CBs. Therefore, although GFSI only has a direct relationship with the CPOs, we impact all parties involved in certifications: ABs, CBs, auditors. This is why we engage this entire community directly and can have confidence in our outcome.
Myth #4: GFSI-recognised certification could act as a replacement for regulatory inspections.
Reality: GFSI-recognised certification can help companies comply with or exceed regulatory requirements.
In our globalised food system, compliance with one regulatory framework may not be enough to access the global market. The GFSI Benchmarking Requirements are consistent with international standards such as those of Codex, ISO and OIE and can help companies comply with national frameworks, such as EU Food Hygiene and Safety Directives, FSMA in the U.S. and the Safe Food for Canadians Act in Canada. Beyond this, GFSI requires Certification Programes to ensure the certified organisation is aware and complies with all applicable regulation.
Studies consistently demonstrate this value. The 2019 DNV GL-GFSI survey found that 86% of industry experts point to the increased ability to comply with regulations as the greatest benefit of certification. In a 2014 GFSI survey of certified companies, 68% of respondents said certification had helped them to comply with regulations.
But GFSI is not a panacea for food safety, nor are we the final authority. Our goal is to foster and facilitate the broader food safety ecosystem, and we are constantly evolving to better do our part. I hope you’ll join us in this noncompetitive, collaborative effort.
This post was written and contributed by:
The Consumer Goods Forum