Since its inception in 2000, the Global Food Safety Initiative has emerged as a high-impact presence in the food industry, touching multiple segments of the industry and creating a dynamic web of continuous improvement. Is GFSI creating a safer food supply from the perspective of quality assurance managers, certification bodies, auditors, and industry consultants? Does it reduce the number of audits a food manufacturer must undergo? How does a manufacturer prepare for an audit? Does certification to a GFSI-benchmarked standard create new marketing opportunities? Is the industry fully embracing GFSI? How is it evolving? These questions are answered by those who interact daily with GFSI principles and practices.
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The GFSI benchmarks existing food safety standards against guidelines established by retailers, food manufacturers, consumers, and food safety experts. Within GFSI, benchmarking is a “procedure by which a food safety-related scheme is compared to the GFSI Guidance Document.” Food manufacturers obtaining certification against any benchmarked standard, such as British Retail Consortium or Safe Quality Food, would be considered to have met GFSI requirements.
As a nexus of stakeholders, GFSI promotes continuous improvement in the operations of groups involved in the food safety certification process—the primary producers and manufacturers, the standard owners, certification bodies, and auditors. Each has specific GFSI guidelines that govern operation and interaction with the others. These guidelines are regularly revised by GFSI to reflect improvements in best practices, upgrading and updating each participant’s operation.
How quickly is the industry embracing GFSI? Since Wal-Mart’s announcement in 2008 that it would require its brand label suppliers to become certified to a GFSI standard, progress has been significant. The British Retail Consortium, owner of the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety, reports that its number of certified sites is more than 15,000 globally.
BRC is only one of the GFSI-benchmarked standards.
“Wal-Mart’s backing was huge for GFSI,” recalled Monica J. Elchlepp, president of Capjem Consulting in Prairie Du Sac, Wis. In 2004, she added GFSI consulting to her company’s portfolio because the “overall concept was unique in the marketplace and fit in with our goals.” Since 2008, she has witnessed more retailers making the same demand of their suppliers as Wal-Mart.
“Food manufacturers are coming to us because their buyer is requiring them to meet this standard, and more times than not it’s a huge retailer they can’t afford to lose,” Elchlepp said. She also noted that while there is still resistance within companies that see “the initial financial and staffing requirements as a burden, the gain can be explosive. We have had clients drive their revenue beyond what they could imagine. Their GFSI certification opened doors and paid for itself several times over almost instantly.”
Auditor Terry Martin of Process Management Consulting in Nashville, remembers 2008 as a time when some manufacturers “didn’t know which way to turn because their system had been operating for 10 years with little change and they had not kept pace. Suddenly they faced the real prospect of losing a lot of business. But by putting their resources into preparation for GFSI—taking one bite at a time and with added training and sometimes a pre-assessment audit—they were able to obtain certification.”
“Once Certified, Accepted Everywhere”
Meeting a GFSI-benchmarked standard requires commitment and investment from food manufacturers to embrace GFSI principles; however, obtaining and maintaining certification creates measureable, positive change. “I’m excited because GFSI food safety schemes provide for a much improved and closely monitored food supply, and this increased level of responsibility means a safer food supply for our country,” Elchlepp said.
Meanwhile, Robert W. Thrash, owner of Process Management Consulting, has noticed more sophisticated thinking about safety and quality. “I see a more ethical approach, and a genuine attempt to do the right thing,” he said. “Manufacturers want to implement improved systems rather than do damage control.”