The launch of any new edition of a Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standard is a major event. For those businesses certified under the scheme it means a period of change and revision of their systems in preparation for their next audit. For the team at Safefood 360 it is no different. Once the standard is available we set about the task of identifying all the changes to the scheme and undertaking updates to the software necessary to maintain compliance. Updating the platform in a timely manner is our job and each new version of a GFSI standard is our specification.
The recent issuance of the BRC Global Food Standard gave us a head start. Driven by the new GFSI Guidance Document in January 2011 many of the changes now required under SQF have already been incorporated into our platform. For example, new requirements under allergen management, training and supplier control have been addressed. The benefits of Software as a Service solution for food safety management come into clear focus during the issue of a new standard. The ability to revise the software within a matter of days and weeks is a powerful tool. In addition to our own gap analysis of the new standard we also talk to our users. They are the people at the front line and their collective insight and experience built on their local certification experience feeds our solution and we look forward to building this feedback into Safefood 360.
The SQF have summarized the main changes as follows:
- Contract manufacturers and product development are now auditable at Levels 2 and 3
- Allergen management, approved suppliers and training are a part of the system elements
- Glossary, logo usage rules and food sector categories are included in the code
- Site design and prerequisite programs (sections 5 and 6) have been combined to remove redundancies
- Some system elements are mandatory
- GAPs include elements of the United Harmonization Standard
- Clause added on continuous improvement
- Clause added for Environmental Monitoring Program for high-risk processes
- Scoring of Opportunities for Improvement (OIPs) has been removed; a simplified scoring system has been incorporated instead
- Recertification date is now tied to the date of the audit
- Auditor and certification body criteria have been revised
The recent and on-going benchmarking of schemes under the GFSI is also an opportunity for reflection. The question of the exact role of certification and its impact on the safety of our food is a compelling one. I just recently completed correcting this year’s examination scripts for the MSc in Food Safety Management at the Dublin Institute of Technology. These are a competent group of postgraduates to whom I posed the specific question of the effectiveness of certification as a food safety tool. The breadth and depth of views offered by the students was excellent and provided much food for thought. One common theme presented was the role of the auditor in the effectiveness and credibility of the certification process and in particular auditor variation. The GFSI’s and SQF’s new focus on auditor competency would appear to be a pertinent move.
As for the GFSI? Well they have referred recently to a report conducted by the University of Arkansas that showed food suppliers that obtained certification from a GFSI benchmarked program, like SQF improved their capability of producing a safer product for consumers. The improvement was gained from the inherent requirements for best practice food safety programs.
So in many ways the immediate future is clear. Wal-Mart supplier requirements, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act and GFSI momentum all point to certification as the key tool in the food safety arsenal.