Have you ever been confused by the use of the term Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) scheme or what a GFSI audit entitles? Did you miss our September 25, 2014, webinar related to three different perspectives on GFSI audits?
Whatever your answer may be, you may find it surprising that more than half of the 55 companies that participated in this webinar have GFSI audits already in place and most of those took place as a result of a customer requirement. Three speakers — Karil L. Kochenderfer, GFSI North American representative; Milinda Dwyer, Costco Wholesale/Food Safety and Produce Supplier Audits; and Lisa Fuentes, director of food safety at The Nunes Company, Inc. — shared three different views during this past webinar. Several items were covered by each presenter, including some general information related to the concepts, benefits and challenges behind GFSI audits.
As stated by Kochenderfer during her presentation, “GFSI has become a global initiative impacting small, medium and large size operations.”
She explained that the GFSI technical guidance document sets criteria/standards that producers need to meet recognized GFSI entities and to provide a system to ensure objectivity, transparency and auditor training/calibration. If you think about this as a system, then the term “scheme” starts to make sense because it refers to the use of the GFSI standards and infrastructure that supports their implementation.
For example, in the produce industry (field and harvesting operations) the following are GFSI recognized schemes: Canada GAP, Global GAP, Primus GFS and the SQF Institute. When producers are asked to implement GFSI audits, they have to conduct an assessment of the different GFSI recognized schemes, pick one and then find an approved company to conduct inspections. The company size and circumstances play important roles on how much time it takes for a company to become GFSI certified, varying from eight months to three years.
From a retailer and producer perspective, the use of GFSI schemes is more expensive; these schemes are not equal, but have more stringent auditor requirements and oversight on certification bodies. However, some buyers like Costco have internal review procedures and addendums that address some of the differences among GFSI schemes. Unfortunately, this is currently influencing specific customer/buyer requirements and generating what has become more common in the produce industry, the use of “addendums” or additional requirements.
Fuentes of The Nunes Company explained that the burden on producers is now transitioning from audit fatigue to audit burden caused by customer/buyer requirements. If producers get several customer “specifications” and conflicting messages, this could add unnecessary costs and influence the “take it or leave it approach.”
This is a reminder of how important it is to improve the working relationship among all parties involved in the supply chain to address any food safety risk in a cost/time effective way. On the positive side, a common goal of “Food Safety First” was affirmed during each presentation, which presents an opportunity to work collaboratively towards that common goal and address challenges.
For new users of GFSI audits and even existing ones, before scheduling any audit, the first thing one should consider is to interview others in a similar situation and conduct some research to confirm that you are choosing or have chosen the GFSI-recognized audit scheme and audit company that fits you best. Fuentes suggested that the firm that works with your business in a manner to ensure the least operational changes and maximize cost/time savings is the best choice.
Communication is another key consideration before, during and after an audit. This is particularly important while the audit is taking place to avoid misunderstandings and delays in the process. Producers should not be afraid to question any observations in a professional manner.
The use of GFSI audits continues to increase and therefore it becomes more and more important to understand how they work, their potential benefits and challenges. If you are aware of any issues with this initiative or have any suggested solutions, do not hesitate to contact us as soon as possible. In particular while the requirements included in the GFSI Guidance document are open for comments. According to a GFSI communication, the guidance document is formally reviewed at least every four years. This comment period closes November 7, 2014, and offers an opportunity to provide feedback to the GFSI leaders. If your company is conducting GFSI audits or plans to conduct them in the future, feel free to contact us with questions, comments or suggestions. Our Western Growers’ Science & Technology team is here to support you, recognizes your efforts and understands that every party in the supply chain plays a key role to ensure safe food. When the produce industry is invested in working together, it makes a difference!
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