Which GFSI Standard is Right for Me, and How Do I Prepare For The Audit?

So your company has decided to pursue certification against a GFSI benchmarked standard. How do you go about choosing the right standard for you, and how can you prepare for your first audit? This article offers some advice.

One of the most important questions to ask before researching and deciding upon a standard for GFSI certification is, “Do any of my company’s current or prospective customers require GFSI certification to a particular standard?

Some customers do require their suppliers to achieve certification to a particular GFSI benchmarked standard and it is worth investigating customer requirements upfront before investing time and resources in the development of a standard specific food safety management system, which is not recognized by a particular customer.

While GFSI benchmarked standards are similar to each other in the core criteria of a supplier’s food safety management system, there are subtle differences with respect to the level of prescriptiveness and certification cycles required by each standard. While GFSI’s motto is “One Certified, Accepted Everywhere,” the reality is that retailers and manufacturers have unique requirements for their suppliers to support organizational initiatives and it is in the best interest of suppliers to understand such requirements for increased market access of their company’s food products.

Identify your company’s preparation profile

Once customer requirements for GFSI certification are evaluated, the next step is to assess management objectives for GFSI certification as commitment and resource requirements maybe different depending on which standard is adopted for certification.

At their most basic level, all GFSI benchmarked standards require the development and implementation of a food safety management system (FSMS) for certification. However, some schemes extend the scope of certification beyond food safety requirements and offer certification of both a food safety and quality management system (FSQMS) such as BRC Global Standard for Food Safety or SQF Code Level 3.

Distinguishing between implementation of these two types of management systems is critical for determining management commitment, resource requirements, implementation of timelines, and maintenance (certification) of the system.

Attributes to consider and evaluate against the different GFSI benchmarked standards when deciding which GFSI standard to implement may include consideration of the following:

  • Type of operation
  • Number of locations
  • Physical size of the facility
  • Number of employees
  • High or low-risk product
  • Number of HACCPs
  • Product category(ies) to be included in scope of certification
  • Ability of management and staff to submit to required unannounced audit during certification cycles.

Developing, implementing, and maintaining a food safety management system is a financial commitment on the part of the company seeking certification with immediate and long term benefits as previously discussed. As such, budgeting for the initial development and implementation as well as continued maintenance of the system is necessary. Consideration should be given to the need for initial training of key management and staff to the selected standard, consultancy, allocation of management and staff time, and initial audit costs. Maintenance of the system should consider continued training needs as new editions of the standards are issued, annual review, revision, and verification of the system, and annual recertification costs.

How to prepare for the audit

In preparation of the audit, it’s helpful to prepare an Internal Preparing Checklist, covering the following aspects:

  • GFSI Standard: Have you determined which GFSI standard best fits your company culture and acquired the current version of the standard?
  • Commitment: Is senior management fully committed to implementation and maintenance of the selected standard’s requirements?
  • Food Safety Management Team: Do you have a qualified HACCP team leader, inter-departmental HACCP team, and designated individual(s) to lead the development and implementation of the food safety management system?
  • Training: Are the company’s designated HACCP and food safety management leads trained in the requirements of the current version of the standard?
  • Readiness: Does the company have a well developed, implemented, and documented HACCP system with core prerequisite programs included allergen management, internal audit, GMPs, process and product segregation, SSOPs, specification approval, supplier approval, recall plan, traceability and training?
  • Timeline: Has senior management set a target date for certification?
  • Consultancy: Do company resources lend itself to successful development of a documented food safety management system, which meets all requirements of the standard, or is there a need for a standard specific consultancy?
  • Internal Audit (Gap Assessment): Has the food safety management team conducted an internal audit of its system against the requirements of the standard? Are “Gaps” or a reason of non-conformance to standard requirements identified with a correction action plan?
  • Third Party Assessment: Is there a need for a third-party (certification body) to conduct a pre-assessment audit of the company’s system against standard requirements? Third party pre-assessments provide objective and competent evaluation of the system by a trained auditor in preparation for the planned certification audit.

The above article has been adapted from a white paper published by CERT-ID, which has over 15 years’ experience in providing certification services globally. For more information, visit www.cert-id.com.

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