Incidents of Salmonella poisoning and several other food contamination cases led to the formation of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) in 2000. Today, the GFSI is a trusted source for food safety and quality standards/ schemes that enable the continuous improvement of food safety management systems. GFSI approved food safety schemes are adopted by food manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers to earn the trust of their customers and the support of global partners.
GFSI helps establish these uniform and consistent international food safety standards and approved schemes to act as international quality benchmarks in the food industry. They address three important factors: (1) Food Safety Management; (2) Good Manufacturing Practices, Good Distribution Practices, and Good Agricultural Practices; and (3) Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP).
The advantage of the GFSI approved standards is that they are flexible, and can therefore be cost-effectively integrated with other food safety guidelines and mandates. They also enhance compliance with regulations such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Overview of Key GFSI Standards
There are currently 10 GFSI recognized standards or schemes which incorporate GFSI’s basic benchmarking factors, and are developed by different owners. Some of these standards include the following.
1. Safe Quality Food (SQF) Owned by the Food Marketing Institute. An SQF certification indicates that a company’s food safety and quality management program is in compliance with global and local food safety regulations. SQF standards govern the complete food supply chain—right from primary food manufacturing and ingredient manufacturing, to product packaging and distribution.
An initial SQF audit is divided into two components, a desktop and a facility audit. The desktop audit can be a day or a day and a half days and the facility audit can take two and a half to five days depending on the size. The recertification audit covers only the facility audit and can extend two and a half to five days depending on size. At the end, the auditee receives one of the following grades: E, G, or C. The first two grades require an annual re-audit, while a C grade requires a semi-annual surveillance audit.
All major non-conformances discovered during the audit have to be closed in 14 days, while minor non-conformances need to be addressed in 30 days.
2. British Retail Consortium (BRC) Food Standard. The BRC scheme can be leveraged by food manufacturers, as well as retailers. It requires all entities in the food supply chain to detect, monitor, and control food safety hazards. It also specifies legal due diligence activities for suppliers and retailers.
A BRC audit takes three to five days to complete based on the size and complexity of the process. Auditees receive an A, B, or C grade. While A and B grades call for annual re-audits, C calls for a semi-annual re-audit.
Auditees are given 14 days to close major non-conformances, and 28 days for minor non-conformances.
3. International Featured Standards (IFS). The IFS certification is relevant to companies that process or deal with both food and food ingredients. IFS standards cover safety criteria for food transportation, packaging, storage, and/or distribution of pre-packaged food. They also include senior management responsibilities, food quality and safety management, resource management, and production processes.
An IFS audit takes two days and assigns audit grades of A, B, C, or D. Auditees get six weeks to clear major non-conformances, and 12 months to clear minor ones.
4. Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) 22000. FSSC 22000 is one of the most popular food safety standards. It can be used to certify a whole range of food manufacturing companies of varying sizes and complexities.