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    GFSI Introduction

    Thursday, March 4th, 2010

    Julia Stewart:
    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart, and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob” with PMA’s Chief Science and Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker. Bob, in early February you attended a Global Food Safety Conference hosted by the Consumer Goods Forum that was held Washington, D.C. The Consumer Goods Forum sponsors something called the Global Food Safety Initiative. Would you explain to our listeners what GFSI is, and what they’re doing?

    Thanks, Julia. The Global Food Safety Initiative or GFSI was formed nearly 10 years ago by a group of retailers in Europe, to try to bring some cohesiveness to the proliferation of food safety audits. GFSI is a global benchmarking organization that benchmarks different food safety standards or schemes, against GFSI defined set of standards. The goal is to try to bring some equivalency to all the different food safety schemes and audits out there, on a global basis. In effect, GFSI believes that by using a benchmarking approach, the various food safety standards can be equilibrated and brought to a common level.

    Here’s how it works: Their technical group goes through and analyzes each scheme, then reports back on its strengths and weaknesses. If the scheme meets the requirements of their benchmarking guidance, GFSI can then approve or “recognize” the scheme. Alternatively, if they find the scheme to be deficient, or they need further clarification, they can ask the owner of the standard to go back and revise it and re-submit it for future evaluation. The GFSI credo is ‘Once Audited, Accepted Everywhere.’

    Bob, you keep using this word ‘scheme’. What does that mean in this particular context?

    Good point, Julia. In the world of global benchmarking, ‘scheme’ is used to denote an entire food safety program. That is, the technical pieces around risk assessment and management, foundation programs like standard operating procedures, sanitation, good manufacturing practices, training, traceability and also the auditing operations. By auditing, I mean the requirements for auditing the scheme; how the auditor will perform the audit, the requirements for auditing, auditor training, the dispute resolution process, and development of corrective actions.

    SQF 1000 (or Safe Quality Food) and BRC (the British Retail Consortium) are two schemes that have already been recognized by GFSI and are operational in North America. Just last week, GFSI announced that Primuslabs has also successfully achieved recognition.

    So, what happened at this most recent meeting, and why is it significant?

    The most recent meeting in Washington is significant because in North America, we are now broadening our view of standards and what’s going on elsewhere in the world in food safety. GFSI coming to the U.S. for this meeting emphasizes this. The meeting had just shy of 700 participants from all sectors of the food industry — a clear indication of the growing importance of GFSI’s work.

    Also, the discussion at this meeting indicates GFSI is working to address some of the challenges which have been brought up in the past about their approach. The biggest issue revolves around whether they can really reduce the cost of food safety auditing and be relevant to small growers – for example, benchmarked audits so far have been more expensive than other audits. GFSI is recognizing they need to have a system that is accessible to small suppliers as well as large ones. If the higher costs of benchmarked standards exclude smaller suppliers, it may prove to be a major stumbling block for retailers dealing with local growers and seasonal sources.

    Another issue that was discussed at the Washington, DC meeting was that of auditor competency and consistency. No matter what your scheme is, it all comes down to the person who visits your facility and performs the audit. GFSI is committed to working with their approved scheme owners to achieve a higher level of consistency in their auditors’ performance. In the end, in order for buying groups to have confidence that an audit truly represents the food safety performance of their supplier, they must believe that the auditor is conducting audits in an efficient and comprehensive fashion.

    At this point, Bob, why should our listeners care about this?

    Having formal boundaries between scheme-holders, accreditation bodies and certification bodies is something that hasn’t always been the case in the U.S. produce industry. However, this global benchmarking concept is gaining momentum, and a number of companies across the food supply chain are already embracing the concept. Companies like Kroger, WalMart, US Foodservice, McDonald’s and a number of others have said they want their suppliers to adopt a globally benchmarked food safety scheme. Retailers recognize they’re sourcing product globally, and suppliers are increasingly facing a multitude of different audit schemes. Simplifying the audit process worldwide will be beneficial to them.

    It’s also clear that the Food and Drug Administration is looking at, and is willing to work with, folks like GFSI to improve the performance and safety of the food industry. We need to learn about this and be involved with it, because it is a trend we see emerging for our industry.

    Julia:Thank you, Bob, for that interesting introduction to global benchmarking. We’ll look forward to future updates on the topic. Thanks to our listeners, and please join us next time!