The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is the result of collaborative efforts between the world's leading food safety experts. It defines food safety requirements for the industry along the entire supply chain to cover packaging, the overall quality and the ultimate distribution of food since the year 2000.
GFSI is not just another check-the-box or "good manufacturing process" audit. It is a robust, business-wide standard that provides benefits for global organizations and consumers – though many consumers have no idea of its existence and the value it's provided over the past 12 years.
Adhering to GFSI standards benefits a business by significantly reducing risk and increasing that organization's product value and promise of food security to customers, regulators and consumers, ultimately increasing sales for years to come.
To successfully adhere to a GFSI standard, an organization must undergo a rigorous audit and inspection process. In order to best prepare for a GFSI audit, there are five essential steps for any organization:
Familiarize your organization through research: Do your due diligence and conduct thorough research as a first step. Visit the websites for each standard (SQF, BRC, FSSC 22000, etc.) and obtain copies of the details for each, along with the supporting documents, for a better understanding of these standards and the requirements for each one. Each standard is run differently with respect to timing, processes and focus. For example, British Retail Consortium (BRC) audits the whole system every year, while Safe Quality Food (SQF) has an initial document review and facility audit in the first year, and then only a facility audit in the years that follow. Ultimately, you will need to choose a certification standard and category that is best for your individual business.
Conduct a gap assessment: Assess your current systems versus the requirements and the scope of the standard you have chosen in the previous step. If desired, there are consultants that can help you with this process. Ensure that hazard and risk assessments have been conducted and that all the relevant food safety and quality procedures are documented. It's vital that you establish and conduct internal audits and that corresponding control mechanisms are in place to ensure the implementation of corrective actions.
Dedicate a team of experts: It is essential to set up a project team to manage the implementation of the chosen GFSI program. Invest in training to ensure this major systems and cultural change program is manageable and that procedures that were written to comply with the standards are being implemented and maintained properly.
Identify a certification body that can provide a pre-assessment for your chosen standard: Engender full understanding and preparation protocols in order to prepare your organization for a successful audit. While not a necessary part of the process, the pre-assessment is essentially a mock certification audit that can help identify gaps and fix them through implementing documented corrective and preventative actions and provide you with the knowledge of what to expect.
Work against the auditing schedule: On the day of your audit, senior management must be available. Through engaging senior management, the auditors will be able to liaise with the decision makers to ensure any changes are implemented throughout the organization.
At the closing meeting for audits, all non-conformities observed will be detailed. Once corrective actions have been submitted to the certification body, reviewed and approved, the certificate and report will be issued to your organization. Two to three years after a GFSI audit, the new standard will become ingrained in your organizational culture. Enable continuous improvement of your organization's food security and arrange for your next audit prior to the certification expiration.
GFSI will improve your business and is a proven risk-reduction strategy, but organizations striving to meet the GFSI standard must not underestimate the level of effort and complexity that is involved. The businesses that do well are those in which senior management are totally committed to a cultural change. It's surprising just how many businesses fail to treat GFSI programs as a major system and cultural change with far-reaching consequences on how the business will run.