Since stepping into the role of director last October, I’ve been focused on truly understanding the all facets of the critical and unique role GFSI plays in the global food safety ecosystem.
As part of this process, I’ve encountered a few misconceptions surrounding GFSI’s mission and activities. Some confusion is inevitable; GFSI is part of an ever-more complex global food safety system, and its role is a multifaceted one. A crucial element of our work is to support a vast network of independent food safety auditors, yet it became clear to me when I began this work that there is deep confusion about the interplay between food safety professionals and GFSI.
I’ve cleared up some myths and explained GFSI’s relationship with audits and auditors, certification bodies and regulatory frameworks.
Myth #1: GFSI hires auditors and conducts audits
Reality: GFSI lays out stringent requirements on auditor training, experience and competence, but does not employ, train or accredit auditors, nor does GFSI conduct on-site food safety audits.
Focusing on ensuring robust third-party food safety certification, we follow a stringent approach with our GFSI-recognized CPOs. The initial recognition process typically takes about 10 months and takes the CPO through several steps of assessments (e.g., desktop office audits, public stakeholder consultation). To then maintain recognition, CPOs must undergo an annual re-evaluation. The initial recognition process is repeated each time we issue a new version of our Benchmarking Requirements – or when a new version of the Certification Program is issued – which is quite regularly, so as to ensure we stay up to date with food safety trends.
Our Benchmarking Requirements include expectations from the CBs and the auditing community; the CPOs have to ensure those are applied by the CBs. Therefore, although GFSI only has a direct relationship with the CPOs, we impact all parties involved in certifications: ABs, CBs, auditors. This is why we engage this entire community directly and can have confidence in our outcome.
Myth #4: GFSI-recognized certification could act as a replacement for regulatory inspections
Reality: GFSI-recognized certification can help companies comply with or exceed regulatory requirements.
In our globalized food system, compliance with one regulatory framework may not be enough to access the global market. The GFSI Benchmarking Requirements are consistent with international standards such as those of Codex, ISO and OIE and can help companies comply with national frameworks, such as EU Food Hygiene and Safety Directives, FSMA in the U.S. and the Safe Food for Canadians Act in Canada. Beyond this, GFSI requires Certification Programs to ensure the certified organization is aware and complies with all applicable regulation.
Studies consistently demonstrate this value. The 2019 DNV GL-GFSI survey found that 86% of industry experts point to the increased ability to comply with regulations as the greatest benefit of certification. In a 2014 GFSI survey of certified companies, 68% of respondents said certification had helped them to comply with regulations.
But GFSI is not a panacea for food safety, nor are we the final authority. Our goal is to foster and facilitate the broader food safety ecosystem, and we are constantly evolving to better do our part. I hope you’ll join us in this noncompetitive, collaborative effort.