What’s the latest in Global Food Safety Initiative programs?

Much has been said about the similarities and differences between the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) certification programs, with many questioning how closely GFSI programs align with FSMA. Does having a GFSI certification mean a facility complies with the rules of FSMA?

The general consensus is that although certification under one of the GFSI-approved programs means a food supplier usually comes very close to meeting FSMA requirements, these guidelines have slightly different standards, meaning one cannot serve as a substitute for the other.

“The latest developments in GFSI-approved certification programs makes them that much more similar to FSMA than before, especially in the areas of food defense, food fraud prevention and auditor competency,” said Neogen’s Bob Artuso.

GFSI was established in 2000 in response to a wave of foodborne illness scares. Its primary goal was and remains to improve the safety of food around the world by developing a harmonized approach to food safety management systems. Before GFSI was established, food safety management was far less unified, with retailers and buyers requiring different food safety standards for different products. This required suppliers to undergo and keep track of numerous, sometimes redundant audits of their facilities and processes — a costly and inefficient use of time. Different food safety certification programs emerged from this scene, like BRC Global Standards and the IFS Food Standards, providing food companies with certifications to show the effectiveness of their food safety practices.

GFSI set out to unify these programs even further with its Benchmarking Requirements, a regularly updated set of guidelines that food safety management programs meet in order to be considered GSFI-approved. Food companies then attain GFSI certification by undergoing audits according to the GFSI-approved certification programs.

GFSI’s Version 7.2 of its Benchmarking Requirements, released earlier this year, more closely aligns with FSMA in several ways. This version focuses on improving auditor competency and covering the entire supply chain. It seeks to improve auditor competency by introducing an exam that auditors must pass, one that assesses a range of skills, including understanding of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and sampling and evidence-gathering abilities. All auditors belonging to GFSI certification schemes need to pass the exam within three years. Two new scopes of recognition, Catering and Retail/Wholesale, were introduced with the update, allowing GFSI to cover the entire supply chain. The newest requirements also incorporate unannounced audits.

GFSI-certified programs have implemented their own updates that make them closer to FSMA as well, specifically in the realm of food defense. IFS Version 6.1 added guidelines for food fraud and Version 6 covered food defense. IFS plans to release Version 7 in the final quarter of 2018. Safe Quality Food Version 8 improved its guidelines on food fraud, food defense and supply chain requirements. BRC Issue 8 covers food fraud and food defense, and it implemented a dedicated FSMA module in Version 7, as well as mandatory training for auditors. Previous versions of these programs have made them more like FSMA’s earlier preventive control rules.

“At this time, FSMA and GFSI programs don’t mirror each other on a 1:1 ratio but are increasingly similar,” said Artuso. “A company that attains certification through a GFSI program is likely to be close to good standing for FSMA, and vice-versa, though a foreign supplier seeking to export food to the U.S. will likely have to take a few more steps in order to be able to do so.”

For more information on how FSMA applies to global companies, see our previous blog post on the matter.

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