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 six-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 accelerated the work to issue Version 2020.1 of the Benchmarking Requirements to include the use of Information and Communication Technologies in audits and also in auditor assessment. While many of these processes 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.
GFSI has established a dedicated group of experts who is working to review the evidence of the efficacy and integrity of remote food safety audit solutions where they exist, with a view to feeding that evidence into ongoing review of the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements. To support the work of this group of experts (the group’s composition has already been defined), we are inviting our community to submit evidence on the efficacy and integrity of audits and assessments carried out using ICT.
Expiring certificates may be extended once by a maximum of six months based on a risk assessment defined by the CPOs and applied by the CBs. During that six-month period, you and your Certification Body should arrange to enable an audit as soon as conditions allow.
The audit process against a GFSI-recognised programme may be kicked off remotely in line with the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements Version 2020.1. The onsite part of the audit should be completed within 90 days of the audit start date. Providing the CB considers that the audit integrity and efficiency will not be impacted by it, the 90-day dispensation defined in Part II element 5.34.1 of the Benchmarking Requirements applies automatically to audits impacted by COVID-19.
As you will not be able to complete an audit against a GFSI-recognised programme as per GFSI Benchmarking Requirements version 2020.1, you will not be certified. GFSI would advocate that suppliers and customer(s) agree on a protocol deemed acceptable to all to assess the risk of maintaining supply chain without the verification of a GFSI-recognised audit. GFSI acknowledges that there are a range of assessment options available other than a GFSI-recognised audit when a physical visit is not possible. As they do not lead to a GFSI-recognised certificate, the suitability of those assessment options or combinations thereof to demonstrate food safety outcomes should be agreed between suppliers and customers and is not a matter for GFSI.
As above, GFSI would advocate that suppliers and customer(s) agree on a protocol deemed acceptable to all to assess the risk of maintaining supply chain without the cerification of a GFSI-recognised audit. GFSI acknowledges that there are a range of assessment options available other than a GFSI-recognised audit when a physical visit is not possible and therefore that assessment needs to be carried out remotely. As they do not lead to a GFSI-recognised certificate, the suitability of those assessment options or combinations thereof to demonstrate food safety outcomes should be agreed between suppliers and customers and is not a matter for GFSI.
The audit process against a GFSI recognised programme may be kicked off remotely in line with the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements Version 2020.1. Providing the CB considers that the audit integrity and efficiency will not be impacted by it, the 90-day dispensation defined in Part II element 5.34.1 of the Benchmarking Requirements applies automatically to audits impacted by COVID-19.
GFSI is a science and evidence-based organisation and any changes to the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements to recognise fully remote audits must be based on evidence that their efficacy and integrity enables food safety outcomes to be achieved. GFSI has established a dedicated group of experts to review the evidence of the efficacy and integrity of fully remote food safety audit solutions where they exist, with a view to feeding that evidence into our ongoing review of the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements. To support the work of this group of experts, we are inviting our community to submit evidence on the efficacy and integrity of audits and assessments carried out using Information and Communication Technologies.