Sponsored by SafetyChain
By Tiffany Donica, FSQA Solutions Architect at SafetyChain
A single foodborne illness outbreak can damage a company’s reputation and cost millions of dollars. That’s why more and more food manufacturers are prioritizing Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) certification. This internationally recognized certification is the gold standard for food safety, and it’s essential for food manufacturers who want to ensure the safety of their products.
Business benefits of becoming GFSI certified
Many companies are seeking GFSI-recognized programs in their supply chain, including Amazon, The Coca-Cola Company, and Target, among others. In fact, the leading reasons many food and beverage companies seek certification are to continue doing business with an existing customer or to begin doing business with a new customer. Ultimately, to contend with leading brands, today’s food and beverage companies can leverage GFSI certification to demonstrate their commitment to quality and safety.
Certification can drive internal business results as well. According to a 2017 study published by the Journal of Food Protection®, nearly 90% of respondents felt becoming certified aided in addressing food safety concerns, and 74% would become certified again even if their customers did not require it. Most companies also witnessed an improvement in Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in the year directly after becoming GFSI certified.
GFSI standards also support safer products. Certification to a GFSI-recognized standard offers shared risk management tools, so food safety management is optimized across all levels of the supply chain. When your company becomes certified, your food safety management system will continuously improve with evolving standards. You’ll therefore be positioned to keep up with the latest requirements in safety at any given time.
While becoming GFSI certified requires an initial investment of time and labor, the benefits of certification have a profound impact. With fewer redundancies in audits, for instance, you can focus your company’s time and efforts on more strategic initiatives. Additionally, complying with GFSI standards helps you achieve reduced failure, which can also positively impact your bottom line.
How to become GFSI certified
Again, GFSI itself does not perform certification or accreditation activities. Thus, you’ll first need to determine which scheme(s) are best for your organization based on the types of activities of your operation. Next, contact the program owner who covers your scope to determine which specific certification program fits your activities. You can then request a list of approved certification bodies that perform audits against their program or contact the certification body directly to request an audit.
Before doing so, however, you should first obtain a copy of the certification program you’ve collected. Read through the requirements carefully to pinpoint any gaps between your current food safety operations and where they should be for audit success. Meet with your management teams and other key stakeholders to discuss costs and action steps needed for preparation, audit, and ongoing compliance. You may consider having a pre-audit performed prior to the official inspection or attending a training course to further boost preparation.
Achieving ongoing GFSI compliance
Of course, the process of becoming certified is only the first step in developing a robust GFSI program. Following certification, you must also ensure ongoing compliance. This should include continuous audit preparedness, vendor management, scheduling and monitoring required activities, and performance trending for ongoing improvement. While each of these activities is essential for compliance, performing them regularly can become time-consuming and resource-intensive.
To reduce the administrative burden, companies are deploying technology to manage their GFSI certification requirements. Automated task scheduling and workflows can save your team a significant amount of time, while also verifying all tasks are completed. Additionally, online portals can simplify data retrieval for remote teams and multiple locations. You can also use equipment data extraction to ensure efficiency and accuracy. Plus, with real-time data analysis and program specifications, you can receive instant non-conformance alerts to achieve timely, documented CAPAs.
Food safety and quality management software also offers automated vendor program management, helping to ensure suppliers follow your GFSI, FSMA, and internal supplier program requirements. This allows you to take a preventive, instead of reactive, approach to non-conformances throughout the supply chain. Finally, software gives you the power to continuously drive performance with data-driven decision-making, as well as ongoing audit readiness via electronic data capture and storage.
The road forward
Clearly, becoming GFSI certified is a considerable undertaking for food and beverage companies. No matter which benchmarked scheme your company becomes certified in, your facility will undergo many changes to promote ongoing GFSI compliance. Nonetheless, with the potential to improve performance, promote safer food, and attract larger customers, the payoff is well worth the effort. And, as there are several schemes to consider, pursuing certification to a GFSI-recognized standard is possible for all types of food and beverage companies, including processors, packaging facilities, and everything in between.
Of course, ensuring your operations are consistently up to GFSI standards is no easy feat. Fortunately, technology can help you streamline compliance, automating key tasks such as audit prep.
Tiffany Donica is a FSQA Solutions architect at SafetyChain Software, with 18+ years of experience in QMS systems integrations and continual process improvement projects relating to HACCP, root cause analysis, and lean manufacturing. She is an expert in GFSI, BRC, and SQF and has experience in food manufacturing facilities as a:
- QA manager at Epi Breads
- Director of quality and continuous improvement at Surlean Foods
- Senior manager, food safety & quality systems at CTI Foods
- QA manager at Five Star Custom Foods