As an industry, we have successfully focused on business continuity amidst the ongoing implications of COVID-19. Around the globe, it is inspiring to see so many examples of our entire industry stepping up to the challenge of keeping the world safely fed.
Consumer safety is GFSI’s highest priority and, together, the GFSI community has worked tirelessly to support all those involved in producing safe food while continuing to uphold the highest confidence and trust during these trying times.
We recognize the travel and meeting restrictions put in place to help manage the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak continue to create audit restrictions, which has an impact on the certification status of certain sites.
There are a number of facets to GFSI’s COVID-19 related work that I’d like to update you on. In the immediate term, GFSI continues to support food businesses’ access to consumer markets:
- Food operators who have proven safety records have sought and secured extensions as described in our COVID-19 position.
- For sites unable to coordinate an on-site audit and renew their current certification before its expiry, GFSI advocates the use of a food safety risk assessment.
- Regarding the challenges faced by some sites relating to seasonality or continued restrictions, we recommend proactively discussing this situation with key customers and identifying alternative information to provide to demonstrate conformity.
- The GFSI Board have discussed these issues at length and we believe that by proactively engaging with those sites dealing with lapsed certificates through risk assessments, buying companies can maintain supply and maintain responsible relationships with supply partners.
I’m delighted to share that GFSI is working quickly to harmonize the risk assessment approach, which will alleviate some supply chain challenges. We share more details on this on the dedicated web page.
At the same time, GFSI is gearing up for a new world of auditing and introducing the use of ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) to food safety audits. The pandemic has accelerated discussions on the potential to replace some aspects of physical audits with the use and support of ICT in the longer term.
As technology has improved, GFSI has been exploring this potential, weighing both the efficiencies and the challenges of such a decision, and its implications for an industry in which the prerequisite of personnel and environmental hygiene has long depended on assessment through physical presence on-site. Above all GFSI remains committed to playing its role in ensuring consumer safety by preserving the highest levels of trust and confidence in third-party audits thanks to a consistent and harmonized approach across the whole supply chain.
I’m happy to announce that this new framework has now been included in a sub-version of the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements. Harmonization across certification programs and throughout hundreds of thousands of certified sites is a complex process and the rollout is thus anticipated to continue through 2020. We count on all players in the GFSI ecosystem to work with us to maintain the integrity and unity of the GFSI approach. Food safety is a shared responsibility, with large-scale collaboration ever-more critical to sustain it consistently.
On behalf of my colleagues on the GFSI Board and the GFSI Team, I would like to thank everyone in our community who has supported us with information, valuable insights and counsel during this time to enable us to establish a collective, industry-wide position that puts safe food for consumers everywhere at its heart. I would like to specifically thank the GFSI Stakeholder Advisory Forum and the GFSI Technical Committee for their commitment to deliver this work at pace.