Achieving GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) certification can ensure consumer confidence in product safety. Among the many existing standards available for audit or certification, GFSI has selected several that are applicable to the food manufacturing industry.
I have conducted certification audits worldwide, and the lessons learned through these audits are applicable to any manufacturing site, whether the facility is in Arkansas or the U.K. This article covers several programs: SQF 2000, BRC Food (Global Standard for Food Safety), IFS Food, and the more recent FSSC 22000. Sector-specific standards such as the Global Red Meat Standard and very small programs such as Synergy are not included.
Organizations should be aware of several issues prior to a certification audit:
Depending on the chosen program, the certification audit may include a separate document review to assess the food safety management system’s readiness. Once this step is complete and all preliminary findings are cleared, the on-site implementation audit will begin. During this step, the auditor will assess the following:
- Are your documentation and facility in line with the standard?
- Are you implementing what has been described in your documentation?
- Is your product meeting the food safety and quality regulations and customer requirements outlined by the standard?
Whichever program you choose, the auditor will have limited time to assess all clauses of the standard. As an example, BRC Food contains no fewer than 326 clauses covering food safety and quality that have to be assessed in a typical 1.5-day audit. This makes the pace of the certification audit quite hectic, and the auditor will not be able to wait long for the needed documents and records. Therefore, the key to a successful audit means:
- Having documentation easily accessible and
- Having your personnel (from top management to maintenance technicians) acquainted with receiving external auditors and answering their questions.
Some standards also have identified key topics, called KO or Fundamentals. Failing one of these critical requirements means not achieving certification and starting the audit process over from the beginning.
To ensure that you comply 100% with must-pass requirements before a certification audit begins, ask a certification body to perform a pre-audit. This exercise follows a process that is similar to the one used in a certification audit, but your certification will not be at risk. At the end of the pre-audit you should know whether your site is compliant with key requirements and how much work is needed to achieve certification.
To ensure that you comply 100% with must-pass requirements before a certification audit begins, ask a certification body to perform a pre-audit.
Management System, Organization Issues
The policy: All GFSI benchmarked standards ask for a management system covering food safety and some quality (customer satisfaction). The policy should be supported by measurable objectives, which can be easily developed when dealing with customer satisfaction but will be more complicated for food safety. The lack of measurable food safety objectives is often observed, so at least one objective should be included. Companies measure their food safety performance through different metrics, such as internal hygiene audit results, microbiological test results, or customer complaints linked to food safety.
The policy should explicitly state that products must meet legal requirements. This may sound like an obvious statement to include in a policy, but it also makes sense when shipping products abroad. Additionally, continuous improvement should be mentioned in the policy and must be implemented through documented corrective and preventive actions.
The management review: The management review should follow a detailed agenda that is precisely described in each GFSI standard. We often find that compulsory topics are not addressed during the management review. These inputs are usually external audit results, hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) studies, previous meeting action plans, and scientific and regulation updates. To avoid such issues, build a template for the management review agenda and stick to it.