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While there are many new policies — from both the private sector and governing bodies — designed to improve food safety, they have created some confusion and ambiguity regarding what GFSI is, what it wants to accomplish, and how GFSI will accomplish its goals.

While there are many new policies — from both the private sector and governing bodies — designed to improve food safety, they have created some confusion and ambiguity regarding what GFSI is, what it wants to accomplish, and how GFSI will accomplish its goals.

 

Written by Food Online | Sam Lewis, associate editor
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While there are many new policies — from both the private sector and governing bodies — designed to improve food safety, they have created some confusion and ambiguity regarding what GFSI is, what it wants to accomplish, and how GFSI will accomplish its goals. Here, Karil Kochenderfer, GFSI’s North American Representative, clarifies five common misconceptions about the organization and its mission.

Food Online: Across the food industry, there’s a belief that one of GFSI’s main goals is to help food makers and retailers meet current best management practices. Could you explain GFSI’s position on this?

Kochenderfer: GFSI is about elevating standards among retailers and their suppliers at both the local and global level and aims to provide, “Safe Food for Consumers Everywhere.”

However, GFSI is more than just the adoption of best management plans in a written manual. GFSI is about establishing a culture of food safety within a facility that is practiced every day by management and employees together. It’s a mindset that starts at the top with C-level executives and seeks to identify and address potential problems before they are actual problems through continuous improvement, continuous training and education, necessary capital investments, and validation through certification.

Food Online: I’ve heard rumblings in the food manufacturing industry of “I can comply with FSMA or I can adhere to GFSI; I can’t do both.” Briefly, could you explain the gaps and alignments of FSMA and GFSI?

Kochenderfer: GFSI is a “B2B FSMA” already operating in the marketplace. Without a doubt, the changes that facilities adopt to become certified to a GFSI-benchmarked scheme will help them significantly to comply with FSMA when it is fully implemented in the U.S. The same is true with the “Safe Food for Canadians Act” in Canada.

Science often takes policymakers and industry food safety professionals to the same place. In fact, several studies have shown that certification to a GFSI-benchmarked scheme can help you meet or exceed national requirements, such as FSMA.

For example, a recent Acheson Group analysis shows significant alignment between the proposed Produce Safety Rule and the produce safety requirements of SQF, one of several GFSI-benchmarked schemes. Similarly, in a 2014 GFSI survey of certified food facilities, 68 percent said certification to a GFSI-recognized scheme helped them to prepare for forthcoming regulatory changes. Additionally, 61 percent said certification increased their ability to produce safe foods and 72 percent would choose to become certified to a GFSI-recognized scheme if they were not already.

Food Online: Many food makers believe that GFSI standards are just for large, multinational companies and adhering to its standards is a labor- and cost-intensive endeavor. Which companies does GFSI apply to and what are the associated costs of following its standards?

Kochenderfer: It is easy to be confused, particularly in a marketplace with many diverse, complex, and overlapping value-chains. Yet, the requirements and costs differ for every facility. The reality is GFSI works with small, medium, and large businesses at the local, regional, and global levels to create “one safe food supply.” It does this, in part, through GFSI’s Global Markets Program, whereby companies requiring supplier certification train, invest, and, in general, help to raise the level of food safety management practices among their medium and small suppliers over the course of three years to then become certified. It’s in their shared interest to do, and they do it often.

Food Online: What about audits? Are there enough accredited GFSI auditors to get certified anytime?

Kochenderfer: GFSI is seeing a dramatic rise in facility certifications and with it comes the need for a large pool of qualified, trained auditors. GFSI-benchmarked schemes are drawing on this auditor pool, but with the heightened role for third-party certification within FSMA, the Safe Food for Canadians Act, and other food safety reforms around the world, the demand will continue to rise. GFSI is investing significant energy in this area.

Food Online: The food industry has followed industry standards, such as Codex, since the 1960s. Is there any truth that GFSI standards go way beyond those of Codex?

Kochenderfer: GFSI is consistent with Codex, IOE, ISO, and the thresholds of performance they set for governments and food operators globally to produce and market safe food. In fact, when GFSI brought together food safety professionals from around the world to develop its global standards, they referenced numerous technical documents and guidance materials developed by these organizations.

Increasingly, government officials around the world are recognizing the role that GFSI, and other third-party food safety certification programs, can play in facilitating compliance with their national food safety regimes. Too often, however, GFSI safety standards are lumped together with private certification programs created to validate the social values and preferences of consumers that go far and beyond food safety and the ability of many companies and regions to produce.

About Karil Kochenderfer
Karil Kochenderfer is the North American Representative of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), an initiative by the global food industry to enhance food safety practices and consumer confidence worldwide. In addition to her work for GFSI, Kochenderfer advises clients in the highly-regulated food, beverage, cosmetic, packaging, and chemical sectors through LINKAGES, her global trade, government, and public affairs firm based in Washington, D.C. Prior to establishing her consultancy, Kochenderfer directed the European public affairs program for the U.S. pharmaceutical industry and led the U.S. food industry’s high-profile initiatives on biotechnology, international trade, and the environment.

 

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