GFSI is happy to share our position for a harmonised risk assessment as part of our ongoing support for food businesses facing continued impediments to certification due to the COVID19 pandemic.
Several months into the COVID19 pandemic, travel restrictions continue to impede audits and certification to a GFSI-recognised programmes. The effects of the pandemic vary greatly though across regions, industry sectors, jurisdictions and therefore each of your individual businesses. Across all GFSI-recognised CPOs in the first two quarters of 2020,
- 61,610 certificates were issued,
- 12,731 certificates were extended,
- 1,300 certificates expired.
This means that about 19% of certified organisations have been affected in their certification plans so far this year.
GFSI is committed to regularly reviewing the situation and providing updates on the options available to you as you navigate these unpredictable times. In this update, we will specifically detail the options available to organisations whose certification is lapsing, as promised in a public letter published by the GFSI Board on 11th June:
“Food operators who have proven safety records have sought and secured extensions as described in our COVID-19 position.
- For sites unable to coordinate an on-site audit and renew their current certification before its expiry, GFSI advocates the use of a food safety risk assessment.
- Regarding the challenges faced by some sites relating to seasonality or continued restrictions, we recommend proactively discussing this situation with key customers and identifying alternative information to provide demonstration of conformity.
- The GFSI Board has discussed these issues at length and we believe that by proactively engaging with those sites dealing with lapsed certificates through risk assessments, buying companies can maintain supply and maintain responsible relationships with supply partners.
I’m delighted to share that GFSI is working quickly to harmonise the risk assessment approach, which will alleviate some supply chain challenges.”
As a certified organisation facing difficulties in scheduling a third-party audit due to pandemic-related restrictions, you may still seek one six-month extension of your certificate. These are granted based on a risk assessment defined by the Certification Programme Owner and carried out by your Certification Body. This gives a bit more time to you and your Certification Body to mitigate any temporary restrictions in travel and auditor’s availability.
Many GFSI-recognised Certification Programmes have now integrated the new GFSI Benchmarking Requirements on the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) into their audit protocols, giving you the opportunity to consider applying for a partial remote audit. There is no obligation to include the use of ICT in your audit, but it may give you additional flexibility in your audit plan, and help you and your Certification Body mitigate some of the restrictions you are both facing.
Some of you will still face the unfortunate situations of seeing your certification lapses. You are certainly not alone in this situation. In these situations, GFSI advocates for proactive engagement between business partners on a food safety risk assessment of maintaining supply, and responsible relationships.
To support you in the latter option, we have consulted with the GFSI Board, their teams, the GFSI-recognised CPOs and our partner Certification Body (CB) organisations on what information may be considered in such a risk assessment. The GFSI Position for Harmonised Risk Assesment is the output of this consultation. It is intended to support conversations between business partners on the design of the risk assessment, and the selection of an appropriate assessment solution. Such solutions are available from Certification Bodies and Certification Programme Owners, and they may provide welcome support and resources to you in this delicate situation. Regardless of the selected risk assessment tool with your business partners, make sure:
- The methods, findings and outcomes of the risk assessment are formally documented in a comprehensive report. A certificate cannot be issued following a risk assessment; however, valuable information is gathered during a risk assessment that you may need to refer to and share with business partners on more than one occasion.
- You agree how long this risk assessment will be valid for. Nobody can predict how long the effects of the pandemic on audits will be felt, and the opportunity to re-certify or renew the risk assessment will be reviewed regularly. Agreeing on this frequency in advance will provide some very welcome certainty.
You may be surprised to find that GFSI is advocating maintaining supply without third-party certification. Our core purpose is to ensure safe food for consumers everywhere, and we believe GFSI recognition is a trustworthy tool to achieve this core purpose. We also believe this trust stems from maintaining uncompromised audit practices aligned to GFSI Benchmarking Requirements. When those practices cannot be applied, businesses need to make informed decisions on decide what alternative risk assessment should apply.
We hope the information provided in the GFSI position will support you in that decision-making process, and we believe this approach aligns with our common purpose to provide safe food for consumers everywhere, whatever the circumstances may be.
Consult the position here.