Third-party Audits: A Win-Win for Producers and Retailers

Why [acronym_tooltip text=”GFSI”] was Founded

There were a series of high profile international food recalls and crises in the 1990s. In order to deal with growing issues of food safety and associated recalls, retailers and brand manufacturers audited their manufacturing facilities using in-house developed standards, yet each developed their own audit standards with no input from one another. The consumer and food industry confidence was low in addressing effectively potentially harmful food recalls. The CEOs of the world’s largest food retailers, working with various forums, decided to take collaborative action. In May 2000, the Global Food Safety Initiative, a non-profit foundation, was founded.

GFSI decided to benchmark the existing standards. Brand Reputation through Compliance (BRCGS)had already published their first BRCGS food safety standard in 1998. The German and French retailers were starting to work together on the International Food Standard (IFS) and the Trade Association for the North American retailers (the Food Marketing Institute,), were developing their Safe Quality Food (SQF) Standard.

What is a Third-party GFSI Audit? A third-party GFSI audit is an audit conducted objectively and impartially by an independent certification body (CB) and its auditor with certified GFSI credentials; of a food manufacturing process, product or service; to assess food safety systems and its compliance against the GFSI Benchmarked standards or schemes.

A third-party GFSI audit is different than a third-party inspection. Inspections (commonly GMP inspections) are another tool where the auditor can advise or consult on a potential solution for observed non-conformities. Whereas during a third-party GFSI audit, auditors cannot recommend or provide solutions to rectifying non-conformities or developing food safety systems. This impartiality ensures that the auditor is independent, but can certainly explain the scheme requirements.

What are the Benefits of a Third-party GFSI Audit?

Third-party GFSI audits can benefit an organization in many ways by identifying gaps or opportunities in food safety and quality management programs for improvement to comply with the scheme requirements effectively.

Food Manufacturers:

  • Establish conformity to robust food safety, quality management standards, legal and regulatory requirements of governing local, state and federal agencies. Third party auditors often serve as a “set of new eyes” or new perspective for continuous improvement. Internal Audits by food manufacturers, a mandatory scheme requirement, helps to identify gaps for improvement.
  • Drive continuous improvements.
  • Increase operational efficiency, productivity and market share.
  • Protect company brand and ensure safety of food across the entire food supply chain.
  • Gain acceptance and recognition of products, processes and services around the world.
  • GFSI schemes are universally accepted.

Avoid potential product recalls and withdrawals, resulting in less product loss and decreased operational cost.Third party GFSI audits are often initiated by a customer of their suppliers. When a customer audits their own vendor, it is a called as a secondary audit. However, it can be difficult to assemble and maintain an audit team familiar with food safety and manufacturing processes of the vendors. It can also be costly in terms of travel time and dedicated staff to conduct such secondary audits for multiple suppliers and/or vendors. When a company hires a third party GFSI Certification Body who has no vested interest in the audit results, they can rely on audit results to make business decisions and verify whether the vendor’s food safety and quality program conforms to their specification and GFSI scheme requirements without physically visiting the facility.   This allows trained experts and auditors to act as liaisons between the vendor and the customer.

Retailers:

The initiative and the entire movement leading to the birth of GFSI was primarily driven by the retailers to address issues related to isolated and inconsistent audit protocols adopted by the retailers and food manufacturers. The previous protocols did not adequately provide consistent and measurable results to resolve growing and costly (in terms of handling cost and human fatality) issues associated with food withdrawals and recalls. The discontent was also due to the fact that the retailers felt that the food manufactures were not proactive and responsive to address retailer concerns relating to the food withdrawals and recalls.

  • A requirement of food manufactures to be a GFSI certified vendor allows retailers to place accountability and onus on food manufacturers to develop and implement robust food safety and food quality plan, and undertake continuous and measurable improvement to produce safe food.
  • Potentially reduced food withdrawal and recall cost. Although some big retailers such as Walmart believed to kickback recall cost to the food manufacturers, the smaller retailers do not have the same leverage.
  • Normally the recalls are initiated involving or linking the production lot code or in most cases by the “use by date” whereas the product UPC number remains the same. In many cases, at retail, the retail associate would remove all products with that UPC number regardless of “use by date” when recall notification is received. This requires additional staff and associated cost for the retailer. Also there is a potential that the recalled product – although removed and segregated in a warehouse or storage area at the retailer, – could be accidentally placed back on the shelf causing enormous strain on resources and also tarnished public perception or brand image in market place. All this could be prevented if the product coming to the retailers from food manufactures that have robust food safety and quality systems and have been verified by GFSI third party audits ensuring that the food manufactured is safe to consume.

The overall benefit of third-party GFSI audits translates to a winning scenario for the producer, retailer and the purchasing public. DFA Global is available to provide certified audits of facilities, plants and the supply chain. For more information, call (916) 246-2816 or email narayanp@dfaglobal.com