The GFSI foundation board, a retailer-driven group with manufacturer advisory members, provides the strategic direction and oversees the daily management of GFSI. The GFSI technical committee, formed in September 2006, is composed of retailers, manufacturers, standard owners, certification bodies, accreditation bodies, industry associations, and other technical experts. It provides technical expertise and advice for the GFSI board and replaces the previous GFSI retailer-only task force. GFSI stakeholders—any interested parties that would like to have a voice within the GFSI structure—are also invited to participate in the GFSI decision-making process at annual meetings and through regular exchanges of information.
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While GFSI does not undertake any accreditation or certification activities, the fifth version of its guidance document reflects commonly agreed upon criteria for food safety standards, against which any food or farm-assurance standard can be benchmarked.
The guidance document contains three sections:
- The first covers requirements for food safety management systems;
- The second covers requirements for a conforming food safety management standard; and
- The third covers requirements for the delivery of food safety management systems.
Enhanced Achievement Criteria
“We use SQF not just because some of our customers require it, but because it is one of the most widely recognized third party certification credentials available,” says William Schwartz, PhD, chief food safety officer and director of quality assurance for Orval Kent Foods (Wheeling, Ill.), a producer and purveyor of sauces, dips, deli salads, and fresh-cut fruits. “SQF is recognized by buyers and sellers around the world and represents greater criteria for achievement than non-certification audits. It allows us to use a special food safety logo that differentiates us from many competitors in our industry.”
Based on universally accepted CODEX Alimentarius HACCP guidelines, the SQF program was developed in Australia and purchased by the Food Marketing Institute in 2003. To date, SQF has been implemented by over 5,000 companies operating in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, South America, the Middle East, and the United States. Over 30,000 certificates were issued against GFSI-recognized schemes in 2007, a 50% increase compared to 2006.
There are tremendous benefits to a strong accountability system all stakeholders can count on, Dr. Schwartz says. For starters, audits can be the basis for employees’ understanding and enthusiastic implementation of company practices and policies, as well as for the ongoing evolution of a company’s self-improvement.
“We’d all like to see in person all the companies we do business with,” Dr. Schwartz says. “Auditing, especially a third party audit certification program, is the next best thing to ensure food safety, quality, and defense, and to prove to our customers we’re a good company to do business with. An SQF certificate can be an important marketing tool for any company to help attract new customers.”
“Stakeholders may accept GFSI, but if they have a need for additional information pertaining to their particular products, that could more likely be handled through a short addendum instead of another standalone audit,” Chestnut says.
Kevin Edwards, director of U.S. food business development for the audit, inspection, and testing services of SGS Consumer Testing Services, agrees. SGS is a global quality assurance firm based in Geneva, with offices and labs around the world. “Private label retailers and major brands are concerned as much about the quality of the auditors as the selected standard. This is why many have developed their own standards and auditor training programs with a natural reluctance to forgo that trust and investment in the near future.”
Auditing firms spend considerable resources to train their auditors and educate their clients about the benefits of GFSI, Edwards says. “Our clients are realizing that if they are producing products for Wal-Mart and they use one of the accepted GFSI standards, those same audits for Wal-Mart will be acceptable for other customers,” he says. “Since there’s no longer a need for multiple audits and compliance to a myriad of food safety standards, cost savings are significant.”