An efficient supply chain is very important in retail food operations. To safeguard the supply chain, a comprehensive supplier food safety program should be an integral part of retail foodservice (see my previous blog on Combating Norovirus Hazards in Retail Foodservice). This becomes even more challenging because one, retail foodservice chains don’t own their suppliers; they’re independently managed businesses, and two, the new regulatory burden placed on retailers by FDA through the proposed FSMA rule to ensure that retailers are accountable on the sources and safety of their products to continue serving safe quality foods to their customers.
Thus, continuous verification of supplier qualification and compliance is as important for food manufacturers and food processors, as it is for food retailers. To fulfill this very important business requirement, the retail Food Safety & Quality Assurance job function would usually include the following roles:
- To conduct continuous food safety audits and monitor suppliers to ensure compliance with all FDA/USDA, State and local regulatory standards;
- To monitor adherence to product specifications, identify deficiencies and implement corrective actions in a timely manner;
- To perform internal and external testing to verify risk assessment and risk mitigation procedures.
How do retail folks try to tackle these important business functions, especially since most retail chains have so many domestic and international suppliers? The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) benchmarking provides a common ground for farmers, manufacturers, food processors and retailers on global food safety best practices. GFSI strengthens the supply chain, eliminates multiple auditing, increases confidence in safe quality food delivery while protecting the public health.
The different GFSI schemes which include PrimusGFS, BRC, SQF, GlobalGAP and FSSC2200 are auditing entities involved with several scopes of food safety and quality assurance service standards, while others like AIB, SGS, NSF and SAIGlobal are certification bodies that perform facility audits. As a business-driven initiative, majority of food processing facilities depend on the GFSI Guidance Document for supplier qualification and compliance by using any of their benchmarking schemes. The advantages are tremendous and include less product recalls and voluntary withdrawals, enhanced traceability, clearly defined risk management and HACCP control, acceptable uniform international standards, eliminates redundancy and frees up time and resources for both food manufacturers and retailers.
Apart from supplier compliance and approval, food retail companies also want to ensure that all potential suppliers align with their corporate values and standards of ethics. GFSIschemes however do not cover these corporate needs like environmental sustainability, animal welfare, ethical sourcing, compliant labor utilization, organic and non-GMO product verification. Moreover, the auditing time frame for most GFSI schemes is only about a few days and thus gives just a snapshot of the food safety practices in these GFSI-approved facilities. Retail food companies will therefore require a more elaborate supplier monitoring and approval system to ensure that certified facilities are not just compliant within the FDA auditing time frame of about one to four days, but that their food safety culture and practices are consistent with their corporate mission to deliver safe quality food to customers.
Additionally, such continuous monitoring and verification will ensure that suppliers are also complying with company policies outside the provisions of GFSI schemes. Proper training of retail Food Safety & Quality Assurance managers on FDA/USDA inspection requirements and corporate expectations at the food processing facilities is absolutely required. The use of third party auditors to assist retailers in verifying supplier qualification and compliance is also advisable because of the often overwhelming number of suppliers involved.
Finally, as FDA begins to implement FSMA, it would be pertinent to verify FSMA readiness of the different GFSI schemes. This will ensure that GFSI certified food manufacturing and processing facilities remain in compliance with the new regulatory provisions for FSMA covered facilities. It would help to avoid costly disruptions in the supply chain and allow businesses to meet their projected growth while serving safe quality food to their customers and protecting their business brand. Overall, GFSI certification remains the gold standard that will guarantee supplier qualification and compliance at both domestic and international locations.