Food operations everywhere are feeling the effects caused by COVID-19. Around the globe, we are seeing examples of how the entire food industry is stepping up to the challenge of keeping the world safely fed.
The pandemic has fundamentally affected the management and assurance of food safety in all retailers and manufacturers, globally. We recognise the COVID-19 outbreak continues to create audit restrictions, which has an impact on the certification status of certain sites.
GFSI remains committed to providing a consistent and harmonised approach to food safety and is working at pace to support all businesses and organisations within the global food safety supply chain. Our aim is to ensure shelves remain stocked and all food remains safe to consume during this period of unprecedented demand. We invite you to read this statement from GFSI Leadership.
The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) brings together key actors in the food industry to collaboratively drive continuous improvement in food safety management systems around the world. With a vision of safe food for consumers everywhere, food industry leaders created GFSI in 2000 to find collaborative solutions to collective concerns, notably to reduce food safety risks, audit duplication and costs while building trust throughout the supply chain. The GFSI community works on a volunteer basis and is composed of the world’s leading food safety experts from retail, manufacturing and food service companies, as well as international organisations, governments, academia and service providers to the global food industry. GFSI is powered by the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a global industry network working to support Better Lives Through Better Business.
GFSI acted immediately to consider extension for existing certificates based on an assessment of the certified organisation. Not all businesses that have applied for an extension have received one, as there are no shortcuts in food safety. We also acknowledge that organisations may see their certificate lapses before they have a chance to coordinate an audit, due to the seasonality of their activities or continued restrictions of movement beyond the 6-month extension we allow.
We are working with our stakeholders to advocate the use of risk assessment in those situations, to maintain the supply of safe food to consumers, while also nurturing responsible relationships between food companies.
GFSI’s very purpose is to support food businesses of all sizes as they ensure the food they produce is safe for consumers. Our ability to drive a process of continuous improvement, as a small not-for-profit with a voluntary programme of benchmarking for food safety certification, is based on trust and accountability. We want to assure consumers that GFSI acts with the highest standards possible at all times, and our certifications are a mark of excellence in food safety beyond what regulators typically require.
Three months is very fast in real terms. These requirements on remote auditing must rightly reflect the inputs from multiple stakeholder groups and are therefore debate heavy at a time when technical resources are already very stretched. Establishing new benchmarking requirements is a diligently controlled and rigorous process based on consultation with technical experts and our wider stakeholder community. Our aim is to maintain an outcome of safe food, harmonisation and trust in the GFSI benchmarking requirements.
Our observation is actually that food businesses of all sizes suffered from the pandemic, as food supply chains are very closely interlinked. One of the reasons we did not allow for remote audits in our COVID-19 position was ensuring an even playing field between companies of various sizes, technological capability, industry sector and geography, recognising that some companies faced additional challenges. We were also very clear that, in time of crisis, food companies need all hands on deck.
We have all experienced empty shelves and back-ordered food during this pandemic. GFSI-recognised certification is a critical part of the food supply chain process for many of the world’s major manufacturers and distributors, and we take very seriously the need to expedite food from farm to fork for consumers – now as much as ever. We also believe that our role is to focus decisions on protecting food safety and consumers, especially in times of crisis.
We have worked with great speed to develop a new framework to the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements that address the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT). This will alleviate some of the supply chain challenges. But writing and implementing such requirements across the 150,000 organisations certified to a GFSI-recognised programme is a complex endeavor that requires many expertises – and time. There are no short-cuts to food safety, and businesses must meet our rigorous standards to receive GFSI-recognised certification, including future partial remote audits.
We don’t believe so. COVID-19 is a human and animal health issue, in which GFSI does not have a direct regulatory or oversight role, rather than a food safety issue. The pandemic is having a significant indirect impact on the supply chain though, putting pressure on movement of goods and availability of workers. When it comes to safeguarding the food supply and those on the frontlines of food safety during the pandemic, GFSI is proud to have moved quickly in issuing our COVID-19 position on 16th March, and continual updates since then.
No. The new requirements on remote auditing are not designed to be an answer to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on audits; rather that was the purpose of our position issued on 16th March. GFSI acknowledges the increasing role and potential of technologies to support auditing. However, GFSI has accelerated the work to allow for the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) in audits and also in auditor assessment. While many of the processes that will be formalised in the coming months will help in the post-pandemic world, we anticipate they will also support food producers and auditors into the future as well.
Each industry manages different hazards specific to their product and processes. In food safety, personnel and environmental hygiene are essential prerequisites, for which thorough verification requires the use of sight, touch, and smell.
Beyond this, we were not confident in the risk assessment data on the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) during audits. We have included the partial use of ICT in our requirements, calling for a balanced conversation with the audited organisation on whether they feel confident and comfortable hosting part of their audit remotely. This will allow us to assess the impact of using ICT during audits on the efficacy and outcome of these audits.