GFSI and the Road to FSMA

By Maria Fontanazza
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A perspective from a seafood processor and distributor on how GFSI certification has prepared the company for FSMA compliance.

Many companies certified to a GFSI scheme appear to have a leg up on preparing for FSMA, especially in the area of documentation and record keeping. During a quick chat with Food Safety Tech, Bob Butcher, group operations manager at Ipswich Shellfish Company, explained how GFSI has helped the seafood processor get ready for FSMA. Do you agree? Sound off in the comments section.

Food Safety Tech: What common challenges do companies experience when managing compliance with a GFSI scheme?

Bob Butcher: Every time there’s a new regulation it’s a matter of understanding how that regulation applies to us. The seafood industry has been regulated by FDA mandatory HACCP requirements for years now. Some of the items that are covered under FSMA have already been covered by the seafood regulations. Our facilities have also undergone third-party audits for a number of years and three are already SQF certified—so in order to meet those certifications, we comply with all the FSMA requirements at this point. That being said, there’s always a challenge or opportunity to make sure we comply with all the regulations and above that, make sure that the quality [of the product] we send to our customers meets both their standards and our standards.

FST: Has being certified to a GFSI scheme helped your company better prepare for FSMA compliance?

Butcher: Because we’re SQF certified and are meeting most of the requirements of the seafood industry, we’re well ahead of meeting FSMA requirements. Maintaining the GFSI requirements put us in great shape for FSMA.

GFSI covers so many areas. [Regarding] vendor compliance, we critically examine the seafood that comes in every day and it’s a very perishable commodity, but every plant is a little different in the talent they have and the number of people. We’ve been able to focus on making sure that the product meets the same criteria at each of the facilities no matter who is receiving it and documenting it accordingly. And whether [complying with] GFSI or FSMA, documentation is important.

We’ve gone the extra step in automating so we can better track how each of the plants and suppliers are performing. We started rolling it out at one plant two years ago and then extended it to all plants. All of our facilities have been under it for a year.  

I think more and more companies are acknowledging the need to automate. With paper forms it’s difficult to make sure the employee has the correct and latest version, and the filing and recovery of that document [is difficult]. If it’s digital, you can get your hands on the latest version any time you want. Plus, you can analyze digital information and easily look for trends.

However, the seafood industry isn’t like a number of other industries—the margins are low, and so cost is absolutely a factor. If it’s a single facility, having paper forms, depending on the extent of the operation, may be acceptable. But if you get into multiple locations, it’s a whole different challenge all together.

FST: What are the broader issues that the seafood industry is currently facing?

Butcher: Supply and sustainability—making sure that you have a handle on the sustainability of the species and are able to explain that to your customers. That ties into record keeping—getting the right product, when it’s an MSC [Marine Stewardship Council] or ASC [Aquaculture Stewardship Council] chain of custody, or whether it’s having the right relationship with the vendors so you know your source. Cost is a concern, along with quality and inventory levels.

There are a lot of very small companies and a lot of them aren’t GFSI certified. A lot of them don’t even have any type of third-party audits, so I’m not sure how ready they are. It’s always a challenge for a small company to get up to speed.

FST: Does compliance with a GFSI scheme help address these issues to some extent?

Butcher: As we started working on GFSI or FSMA, and even HACCP many years ago, we started looking at products differently. You’re documenting more and gaining information—and once you have that information, you can focus on cost factors and inventory. So from that standpoint, it has been very helpful.  At this point, we’re SQF Level, and we plan to go Level 3, which involves more quality parameters and certification. That will greatly impact the product and the profitability as well.

FST: What are your tips for companies in terms of being audit ready?

Butcher: The software program we use helps us maintain our facilities to be as audit ready as we can from a documentation standpoint. With SQF there will be unannounced audits, and it’s always been FDA’s practice or the state inspector’s practice to pop in anyway, so you have to be ready for that inspection at any time. The whole principle of HACCP is to make sure you’re documenting what you’re doing. And whether it’s an auditor or an inspector, they’re coming in at any time and can look at records for the past two years, so you should be in compliance and be able to prove that.

About The Author

Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech

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