Just because GFSI certification seems daunting, doesn’t mean it has to be.
As the Auditing Services Manager, I consistently receive the all too typical supplier calls with questions like
“My customer just told me I have to get my site GFSI certified to keep my contract. What do I do?”
In most cases, suppliers are caught completely off-guard, unclear on what a GFSI audit is and desperate to meet the unexpected customer requirement. Their stress level is made even worse by the fact that they have been calling any number they can find with a Google search for “GFSI audit” and striking out with each attempt.
While I am always happy to have the opportunity to point people in the right direction, I would much prefer that no one experience the emotional roller coaster often associated with GFSI audit requirements. To that end, I would like to provide a brief introduction to GFSI.
In the late 1990’s many major retailers around the world noted that their suppliers were being overwhelmed by food safety audits. At the time, most retailers required their own second-party food safety audit for suppliers. This wasn’t just inefficient and expensive for the retailers, but also a major burden for suppliers who had a continuous stream of redundant audits on their schedule.
To address this issue, the Global Food Safety Initiative was formed. Instead of creating their own auditing schemes, GFSI opted to benchmark and approve various food safety systems for farms and manufacturers. Two of the more well-known schemes in the United States include the BRCGS Global Standard for Food Safety and the SQF Safe Quality Food Code.
With these globally-recognized schemes in place, a supplier could schedule just one food safety audit each year and customers everywhere would know that the resulting certificate represented a serious commitment to producing safe food.
Every GFSI standard effectively reviews three things:
- Does the supplier say what they do? (Reviewing policies and procedures)
- Does the supplier do what they say? (Observing processes while they run, interviewing employees, inspecting the facility)
- Does the supplier track that they do what they say? (Reviewing records)
Putting all of these elements together, a GFSI audit ensures that a supplier is producing safe food year round.
While it can be stressful for a supplier to learn that an important contract hinges on obtaining a certification they’ve never heard of before, suppliers who successfully pursue GFSI certification generally find that the effort invested leads to significant rewards. These include:
- Improved margins – when food is consistently produced safely and processes are under control, there are far fewer recalls, product holds, reworks, and wasted product headed for the landfill.
- Attractive marketing – many major retailers will not even consider buying from suppliers without GFSI certification. Even those who do not currently require it recognize the significance of such certification as an important asset. If your customers are currently not requiring GFSI from your facility, you can count on the fact that they eventually will be.
- Consistent systems – a well-implemented GFSI system is just that: a system. Instead of having one or two people who are essential to keeping a plant running, a food safety system helps to ensure that the plant can keep running and producing safe food even when the QA manager is out sick, on vacation, or in meetings.
- Brand protection – safer food production will help prevent a facility experiencing a product recall or receiving and FDA Form 483. Such crises can cause long-lasting harm to a brand’s appeal, doing incredible damage to a supplier’s ability to remain open and operational.
- Safe food – most importantly, a GFSI food safety system helps keep your food safe. You want the people who eat the food you produce—your own families, friends, and neighbors, as well as people you may never know—to safely enjoy it. A GFSI system empowers you to keep consumers healthy and safe.
While these benefits are all significant and important, I know that the task ahead of achieving GFSI certification can seem daunting. If you are considering pursuing GFSI certification, I always recommend that you attend a training for implementing your chosen scheme. A couple of days spent in SQF or BRCGS training make a big difference and will help you to understand the scheme requirements. If you don’t yet have a HACCP system in place, you will want to begin with HACCP training and implementation before moving on to GFSI, as HACCP is the backbone of GFSI.
Whether you find yourself planning ahead and working toward GFSI on your own or are scrambling because an important customer just asked to see your certificate, you can reach out to us at Safe Food Certifications to get your questions answered and to work out what your path forward might look like. You can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 916-246-2806. I look forward to taking your call and working with you on your journey to safer food for all.