The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is a global initiative for the continuous improvement of food safety management systems. From a functional standpoint, you might be surprised to learn that one of the most challenging elements of keeping up with GFSI compliance for many food producers is sufficient document control. In fact, data compiled by SQF shows that document control-related issues are one of the most common sources of a non-conformance during GFSI-benchmarked audits. Examples of these non-conformances are associated with documentation of training requirements, business continuity planning, and corrective and preventative actions.
|The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is an industry-driven initiative providing thought leadership and guidance on food safety management systems necessary for safety along the supply chain. This work is accomplished through collaboration between the world’s leading food safety experts from retail, manufacturing and food service companies, as well as international organizations, governments, academia and service providers to the global food industry. They meet together at technical working group and stakeholder meetings, conferences and regional events to share knowledge and promote a harmonized approach to managing food safety across the industry. GFSI is facilitated by The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a global, parity-based industry network, driven by its members.|
So what exactly are some of the most common causes for document control issues as it relates to non-conformances? Keep an eye out for the following five errors that can affect compliance.
1. Lack of document control altogether
Lack of correct usage of document control in the context of GFSI compliance is a common error. This is an issue that often occurs as a result of document sprawl—specifically as it pertains to duplicate documents and supporting documents. For example, an organization might create internal reference material designed to be cheat sheets or summaries of larger policies. These could include simple charts that list key equipment set-up parameters or charts summarizing abbreviated information from product specification sheets. Many organizations fail to realize that because of the nature of the information in these files, these reference documents must also be included in their document control program to ensure that the information in them is current and universally applied.
2. Document version control
From using outdated forms to referencing outdated employee procedures, lack of proper document version control and enforcement is the most common GFSI compliance-related non-conformance. These issues can arise from operational errors (employees don’t know where to find up-to-date documentation or how to ensure that it is being used) to technical errors (the document control system is unable to properly manage document versioning, or in the case of home-grown document control software systems, they may be unable to do so altogether). To avoid these errors, it’s necessary to establish where controlled versions of documents are located and ensure that they are kept up to date. It’s also important remove obsolete versions of these documents—this is a basic principle of document control, but it’s often an area where errors compound over time. Reinforcing training so employees are made aware of document control best practices and policies is critical to keeping your compliance activities current.
3. Document revision errors
One of the most common activities and most common sources of error within any document control program involves publishing revisions to documents. These errors include:
- Updating the contents of a document but forgetting to update information such as the version number
- Improper tracking of revision history
- Adding new documents to the database rather than revising or updating existing documents
4. Inclusion of documents from external sources
If your food safety management system includes or makes use of external documents, these must be controlled in the same manner in which you control internal documents.
Some examples of external documents that may need to be included in your document control program include:
- Sample labels provided by your chemical and pest management suppliers
- Raw material specifications provided by your suppliers
- Customer expectations manuals provided by your customers
5. Improper identification of approval personnel
A best practice of document control is for the person knowledgeable about the content of a document to be assigned the responsibility of approving updates to it. In many organizations, this is interpreted to mean that all approval responsibilities are assigned to a single person across the organization. This could be the food safety coordinator or the document control administrator, despite the fact that it is not reasonable for a single person to be knowledgeable about all the procedures across the organization.
A better approach to approval responsibilities is to identify individuals who can be responsible for authorizing changes based on function or discipline. By spreading the responsibilities across more people, your document control program is more likely to be current and accurate.
When it comes to food safety compliance and best practices, particularly as they relate to GFSI, it’s often the basic principles that get overlooked once your organizations processes and systems are up and running. Setting up a process for document control and maintaining this process over time is a key to achieving and maintaining compliance. As such, it’s important to revisit your controlled document process and library regularly to ensure things are operating as designed and avoid costly compliance surprises at the same time.