Tag Archives: SQF

Ask the Experts: Remote Audits Rules for SQF, FSSC 22000 and BRCGS Standards

Shawna Wagner, DNV Isabella D'Adda Veronica Ramos, DNV
SQF Q&A with Shawna Wagner, CP-FS, Food Sector Technical Manager, North America
SQF Auditor of the Year 2019
FSSC 22000 Q&A with Isabella D’Adda, DNV GL Global Food & Beverage Manager BRCGS Q&A with Veronica Ramos, DNV GL Lead Auditor, BRCGS Auditor of the Year 2020 award winner

Can we have 100% remote audits?

Shawna Wagner (on SQF): SQF does permit conducting an audit at 100% using ICT. Audits using ICT are not mandatory. This option must be a last resort option, as full onsite and the 50/50 blended option (50% onsite and 50% remote) shall be the first options. A feasibility assessment with a certified organization is needed to verify that a full remote audit is an effective and practical option. An SQF Fully Remote Audit only applies to announced re-certification and/or surveillance audits of the SQF Food Safety and/or Quality Codes. It does not apply to initial certification audits or unannounced re-certification audits.

SQF Fully Remote Audit certification can be applied to the following SQF Codes:

  1. SQF Food Safety Code for Food Manufacturing
  2. SQF Food Safety Code for Storage and Distribution
  3.  SQF Food Safety Code for Manufacture of Food Packaging
  4. SQF Food Safety Code for Primary Production
  5. SQF Quality Code

Isabella D’Adda (on FSSC 22000): Yes, 100% remote audits are now allowed also for FSSC 22000. On the 5th of October, 2020 FSSC published a new document called “Full Remote Audit Addendum” that explains the conditions and the rules for conducting FSSC 22000 audits fully remotely. This document is valid and applicable only, when a certified organization cannot be accessed due to a serious event – as in the case of a pandemic.

The FSSC 22000 full remote audits are completed using Information and Communication Technology (ICT); these will be accredited audits, which will not be recognized by GFSI – the transparency of the certification process is always granted, that’s why the certificate that will be issued after these kind of audits will have a specific reference that a Full Remote Audit was conducted.

Before conducting a 100% remote audit, a certification body must evaluate an impact of the serious event on the current certificate and certification status, and conduct a feasibility assessment with the certified organization in order to verify that a full remote audit is an effective and practical option.

The FSSC 22000 full remote audits can be done when annual announced surveillance/periodical or recertification audits cannot take place on-site. But not for Stage 2 Initial audits. Note: even during the 100% Remote audits, auditors need to spend about 50% of the time on documents and records evaluation, and the rest of the audit time on performing video plant tours and interviews.

The addendum to the standard called “FSSC 22000 Annex 9” is still valid in cases where a certification body and an organization agree that it is more appropriate and effective to conduct an audit in two steps: document review and interviews with key personnel remotely, using information and communication technology (ICT), then audit implementation and perform verification of the food management system on-site, with a time-lapse between the two steps.

In the case of the first certification, the FSSC 22000 Annex 9 can be applied and the whole stage 1 audit can be conducted remotely, while the subsequent stage 2 audit will be conducted on-site at least within 6 months after stage 1. For all other audits, according to Annex 9, part of an audit can be conducted remotely, and the rest of the activity completed onsite, considering that the onsite audit cannot have a duration less than 1 day and shall be at least 50% of the total audit duration.

Veronica Ramos (on BRCGS): The rules have been changing recently for the BRCGS standards. These rules are published in the Position Statement BRCGS 078, 080 and 086 (www.brcgs.com) – and these are applicable only for already certified sites. Currently, all certified sites, whose certificates can be affected due to COVID-19 in respect to travel restrictions and internal rules of receiving external visitors to the sites, can opt to any of the following three options:

  • Request a certificate extension for six months with a COVID-19 risk assessment (see Position Statement BRCGS 072);
  • Request their re-certification audit with the “blended audit” modality (see Position Statement BRCGS 080) – where a remote audit (using ICT electronic systems) is combined with an on-site audit for re-certifications;
  • Request the new temporary modality to conduct 100% of an audit remotely (according to the Position Statement BRCGS 086).

This is only applicable for announced audits. It is considered that the best option is to conduct a regular on-site audit or to go with the blended audit option, because an auditor can have a better opportunity to confirm the level of compliance on-site. The on-site audit part should be of at least 1.0 day duration, while the remote part shall not exceed 50% of the total audit duration. Note: full (100%) remote re-certification audits must replicate the exact methodology of a regular audit, including plant tours and interviews, however, it must be first verified that electronic devices and communication means can be used successfully. Also, one should be aware that 100% remote audits are not GFSI benchmarked, but are accredited. Please contact your lead auditor or certification body for more information.

What can be audited during the remote portion?

Wagner (on SQF): For SQF we would focus mainly on Module 2 items, such as Food safety policy, Management Reviews, Approved Supplier Program, Specifications, Validations, Verifications, and Training for the 50/50 blended audit. The 100% remote audit shall include all steps associated with an SQF Systems audit including the opening and closing meetings and discussion and agreement on non-conformities.

D’Adda (on FSSC 22000): When an audit is 100% remote, the whole activity will be done using an appropriate ICT. The audit will follow the same format and organization as an on-site one and, in any case, an auditor must be able to complete the full audit against all FSSC 22000 requirements: also during these audits a possibility to do interviews with personnel must be granted, an appropriate site inspection of all production areas, facilities, storage and external areas must be completed, implementation of PRPs must be verified, documentation must be evaluated with involvement of all management and staff, who manages the food safety system.
A fully remote audit can be conducted only, when a site is operational, and production is taking place.

For FSSC 22000 fully remote audits, it is advisable to provide supporting information to an auditor before an audit takes place. Documentation, such as site maps, updated flow diagrams, a list and overview of OPRPs/CCPs, any changes, caused by a serious event, and any other supporting information regarding the production process will be useful during an audit.
For audits done 50% remotely and 50% on-site there is the following process: during the remote part, focus will be on the ISO 22000 components of the FSSC 22000 scheme and interviews with management and key personnel. An auditor will review documents and procedures, check management review with specific focus on FSMS objectives and key process performance indicators, HACCP plan, internal audits, complaints and recalls, and how these were managed, focusing on key changes since the previous audit (applicable in the case of periodic audits and re-certification).

Ramos (on BRCGS): During the remote part of a blended audit focus should be on the information included in the documents and records: an auditor would need information on implementation and maintenance of the requirements since the last audit (meaning that samples of records, which could be requested, could be for the last twelve months). Most of the BRCGS standards are color coded, clearly indicating, which are the expected requirements to be audited against on-site, and which can be audited against remotely (e.g. management review, internal audits, complaints, recalls, etc.). But as mentioned before, everything will need to be audited, if the option selected is 100% remotely.

Who should attend the remote portion?

Wagner (on SQF): We would look at this audit no differently than as if we were onsite. It would be recommended that whichever employee is responsible for the section being audited that they attend. Employees could also be interviewed during a remote audit. This should be discussed with key personnel at the opening meeting.

D’Adda (on FSSC 22000): During remote audit both management and involved key personnel shall be available to support the auditor in his/her activity. Companies should cooperate and provide adequate resources to ensure the audit is conducted successfully.

Ramos (on BRCGS): During a remote audit both management and involved key staff shall be available to support the auditor in his activity.

What documents should we have ready for the remote portion?

Wagner (on SQF): Documents would be the same as if it were an onsite audit. All documentation should be made readily available to the auditor during the time of the remote portion and/or onsite portion of the audit.

D’Adda (on FSSC 22000): The documents that should be available for the remote audit are the same, as the ones requested for ISO 22000 implementation, like context analysis, food safety management system with its defined scopes, products and processes that are included and the objectives of the FSMS, food safety policy, HACCP Plan, management review, updated internal audits and all procedures that a company has documented, which are necessary for the effectiveness of their food safety management system.

Ramos (on BRCGS): All types of documents in their latest updated version shall be readily accessible. It is up to an auditor to request documentation, which is required to fulfil the objectives of an audit within its scope. Documents could be manuals, procedures, work instructions, templates of records, and actual records.
Can we send documents ahead of time?

Wagner (on SQF): It is not required that documents be sent ahead of time, although in some cases this could be helpful for the site and the auditor. Information that is sent ahead of time would be confidential and not audited until the actual audit.

D’Adda (on FSSC 22000): It is not required to send documents ahead of time, however all documents must be prepared and available for the planned audit dates, remote or onsite. There are some organizations, which want to share information in advance and show potentially useful examples, such as master list of documents, flow diagrams, maps, or a summary of preliminary answers to key requirements/topics. This information will not be audited until the actual audit (remote or on-site) starts. Thus, this information will be handled as confidential. As a representative of a certified organization, one should know that during an audit, it is up to auditors to request certain information, which may help to get proper evidence, needed to fulfill objectives of the audit.

Ramos (on BRCGS): It is not required to send documents in advance, however there are some organizations, who want to share information beforehand to demonstrate examples, which might be useful during an audit, such as master list of documents, flow diagrams, maps, or a summary of preliminary answers to the key requirements/topics. This information will not be audited until the actual audit (remote or on-site) starts. Such information will be handled as confidential. As a certified organization, one should know that it is up to auditors to request certain information, which may help to get proper evidence, needed to fulfil the audit objectives, during an audit.

Is my information confidential?

Wagner (on SQF): All information that is sent shall be confidential and follows DNV GLs Information Security Policy.

D’Adda (on FSSC 22000): All DNV GL auditors received specific training on how to manage remote audits and treat confidential information in accordance with the DNV GL’s Information Security Policy.

Ramos (on BRCGS): All DNV GL auditors received specific training on how to manage remote audits and treat confidential information, in accordance with the DNV GL’s Information Security Policy and confidentiality agreements signed with customers.

When does the onsite portion need to happen?

Wagner (on SQF): The onsite needs to happen within 30 days of the remote portion. Both audits must occur within the 60-day audit window for SQF.

D’Adda (on FSSC 22000): In the case of fully remote audits, there won’t be an onsite auditing activity, and it will be completed using ICT equipment. In the case of an audit done partially remotely and partially on-site: FSSC has defined that the maximum timeline between a remote audit and the on-site portion shall be 30 calendar days. In the case of a serious event, this timeline can be extended to 90 calendar days, but only after a documented concession process and risk assessment have been completed by a certification body. Serious events that could lead to a postponement of the onsite portion of an audit are pandemic emergencies like Covid-19, legal proceedings, prosecutions, affecting food safety or legality, public food safety events (e.g. public recalls, calamities etc.), natural disasters (e.g. floods, fire, earthquake), war or political instability and other serious situations, like malicious hacking.

Ramos (on BRCGS): It is expected that in a blended audit the remote part is conducted first and then the on-site part, however, if logistics require that the audit is conducted in the reverse order, this is acceptable as well. The second part of a blended audit needs to happen within the following 28 calendar days, allowing enough time for a site to do a non-conformity closure (when applicable), and a re-certification decision can be issued before the expiration date of the current certificate. In exceptional justifiable circumstances, a certification body may request a concession from BRCGS for a maximum of 90 days. In the case of a 100% remote audit, the full audit shall be conducted as scheduled on consecutive full days.

Steve Wise, InfinityQS
FST Soapbox

How SQF Certification Can Be a Contract Manufacturer’s Greatest Advantage

By Steve Wise
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Steve Wise, InfinityQS

Well-known food and beverage brands will often turn to contract manufacturers to produce the quality products that their customers expect and enjoy. With their brand names on the line, these brand owners need assurance that their suppliers can deliver safe and high-quality goods and mitigate the looming threat of recalls.

How do they know if they’re working with a reliable contract manufacturer? Well, many will look to see if they hold certifications from a reputable third-party organization, such as the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI). In fact, one in four companies today require that their suppliers have SQF certification, making it one of the most important certifications in contract manufacturing.

SQF certification demonstrates that a supplier has met benchmarked standards—set by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)—for upholding quality and controlling food safety risks. It’s a form of validation of an organization’s ability to consistently produce safe and high-quality products. Contract manufacturers that have SQF certification are more likely to win contracts and can bid for business on a national or global scale. Thus, it presents a clear competitive advantage to those certified in the various levels of SQF certification.

Certification Tiers
SQF is a three-level certification program, with each tier progressively more rigorous than the last.

  • Level 1: The SQF Safety Fundamentals Program is an introduction to food safety standards for small- to medium-sized food suppliers. Ideal for those with low-risk food products, the program doesn’t meet GFSI standards but establishes a foundation for doing so. Suppliers certified at this level typically sell their services to smaller, local purveyors.
  • Level 2: The SQF Food Safety Program follows GFSI-benchmarked food safety standards. It helps sites implement preventive food safety measures according to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) regulations, which ensure scientific analysis of microbiological, physical and chemical hazards are applied at each step of the supply chain. This level is ideal for businesses that would like to work with purveyors that require adherence to GFSI benchmarked standards.
  • Level 3: The SQF Food Safety and Quality Program shows an ability to not only contain safety risks through the HACCP system, but also monitor and control threats related to food quality. This highest level of certification is ideal for large-scale producers, manufacturers, food packaging facilities and distributors that have successfully deployed an SQF Food Safety Program and want to go above and beyond in their quality efforts.

While it’s the most demanding of the three, Level 3 certification is what most contract manufacturers should aspire to because it’s required by many of the world’s largest food and beverage brands. In order to attain this level of distinction, contract manufacturers need an effective way to demonstrably meet all GFSI benchmarked standards and readily access their quality data during an audit. This is where statistical process control (SPC) comes in.

The SPC Gamechanger

SPC is a proven methodology for monitoring and controlling quality during the manufacturing process. SPC enables manufacturers to chart real-time quality data against predefined control limits to identify unwanted trends and product or process variations. If there is an issue, timely alerts will notify responsible parties to take remedial action early on, preventing unsafe or poor-quality goods from entering the supply chain and triggering a recall. This establishes strong controls for food quality and safety in accordance with a Level 3 SQF Program. Audits also become a breeze, as all historical data are stored digitally in a centralized repository. Suppliers can thereby quickly and easily produce auditor-requested reports showing compliance with SQF requirements and GFSI standards.

Statistical process control, InfinityQS
Statistical process control (SPC) is a method for monitoring and controlling quality during the manufacturing process. Image courtesy of InfinityQS

But beyond quality monitoring and facilitating audits, SPC can deliver greater impact by providing suppliers with analytical tools useful for mining historical data for actionable insights. They can run comparative analyses of the performance of different lines, products, processes, or even sites, revealing where and how to further reduce risk, improve consistency, streamline operations, and lower production costs. In this way, SPC lends itself to a profit-positive business model—driving additional savings through process improvement while increasing new business opportunities through contracts won via SQF certification.

A Snacking Success

One contract manufacturer of savory and healthy snacks previously struggled with large variations in product quality. These inconsistencies often resulted in quality holds or process aborts that generated high waste and costs. By implementing SPC, the snack supplier was able to take advantage of a wide range of data—including incoming receiving tracking and quality inspection tracking—to finetune its production processes with effective controls for food quality and safety. In addition to a 30% reduction in customer complaints, SPC has helped the supplier realize a $1 million reduction in product waste and attain Level 3 SQF certification, the latter of which has generated continued new business from several well-known snack food brands.

This snack supplier is a clear example of SQF certification as a competitive differentiator. Working with such SQF-certified and SPC-powered contractors is important to food and beverage brands because they can protect their reputations and ensure continued customer retention by way of safe, consistent, high-quality products. Ultimately, it builds greater trust and integrity in the supply chain among companies and consumers alike.

Lessons Learned from Intentional Adulteration Vulnerability Assessments (Part II)

By Frank Pisciotta, Spence Lane
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Food defense is the effort to protect food from intentional acts of adulteration where there is an intent to cause harm. Like counterterrorism laws for many industries, the IA rule, which established a compliance framework for regulated facilities, requires that these facilities prepare a security plan—in this case, a food defense plan—and conduct a vulnerability assessment (VA) to identify significant vulnerabilities that, if exploited, might cause widescale harm to public health, as defined by the FDA. Lessons learned during the conduct of food defense vulnerability and risk assessments and the preparation of the required food defense plan are detailed throughout this three-part series of articles. Part I of this series addressed the importance of a physical security expert, insider threat detection programs, actionable process steps (APS) and varying approaches to a VA. To further assist facilities with reviewing old or conducting new VAs, Part II will touch on access, subject matter experts, mitigation strategies and community drinking water through more lessons learned from assessments conducted for the largest and most complex global food and beverage facilities.

Lesson 6: Utilization of Card Access. The FDA costs of implementing electronic access control, as reported in the Regulatory Impact Analysis document (page 25) are shown in Table 1.

Average Cost Per Covered Facility Initial Recurring Total Annualized
Prohibit after hours key drop deliveries of raw materials $ $1070 $1070
Electronic access controls for employees $1122 $82 $242
Secured storage of finished products $1999 $– $285
Secured storage of raw materials $3571 $– $508
Cameras with video recording in storage rooms $3144 $– $448
Peer monitoring of access to exposed product (not used) $47 $1122 $1129
Physical inspection of cleaned equipment $– $303 $22
Prohibit staff from bringing personal equipment $157 $– $22
Total $9993 $1455 $2878
Table I. Costs of Mitigation

In our opinion, these costs may be underreported by a factor of five or more. A more realistic number for implementing access control at an opening is $5,000 or more depending on whether the wire needs to be run in conduit, which it typically would. While there are wireless devices available, food and beverage organizations should be mindful that the use of wireless devices may in some cases result in the loss of up to 50% of electronic access control benefits. This happens because doors using this approach may not result in monitored-for-alarm conditions, such as when doors are held open too long or are forced open. Some wireless devices may be able to report these conditions, but not always as reliable as hardwired solutions. Using electronic access control without the door position monitoring capability is a mistake. From a cost standpoint, even a wireless access control device would likely be upwards of $2,000 per opening.

Lesson 7: In the interest of time, and in facilities with more complex processes (which increases the work associated with the VA), plan to have quality, food safety and physical security personnel present for the duration of the VA. But also bring in operational specialists to assess each point, step or procedure for the respective operational areas. You may wish to have a quick high-level briefing for each operational group when it’s their turn to deliberate on their portion of the manufacturing operation. Proper planning can get a hybrid style VA done in one-and-a-half to three days maximum for the most complex of operations.

Lesson 8: Conduct a thorough site tour during the assessment process; do not limit your vulnerability activity to a conference room. Both internal and external tours are important in the assessment process by all members of the team. The external tour is needed to evaluate existing measures and identify vulnerabilities by answering questions such as:

  • Is the perimeter maintained?
  • Are cameras pointed correctly?
  • Are doors secure?
  • Are vehicles screened?
  • Are guards and guard tours effective?
  • Internal tours are important to validate documented HACCP points, steps or procedures.A tour also helps to validate process steps that are in multiple parts and may need to be further assessed as a KAT, for public health impact, accessibility and feasibility or to identify issues that have become “invisible” to site employees which might serve a security purpose.
  • Properly conducted tours measure the effectiveness of a variety of potential internal controls such as:
    • Access control
    • Visitor controls
    • Use of identification measures
    • Use of GMP as a security measure (different colors, access to GMP equipment and clean rooms)
    • Effectiveness of buddy systems
    • Employee presence

Lesson 9: Do not forget the use of community drinking water in your processes. This is an easy way to introduce a variety of contaminants either in areas where water is being treated on site (even boiler rooms) or where water may sit in a bulk liquid tank with accessibility through ladders and ports. In our experience, water is listed on about half of the HACCP flow charts we assessed in the VA process.

Lesson 10: Some mitigation strategies may exist but may not be worth taking credit for in your food defense plan. Due to the record keeping requirements being modeled after HACCP, monitoring, corrective action and verification records are required for each mitigation strategy associated with an APS. This can often create more work than it is worth or result in a requirement to create a new form or record. Appropriate mitigation strategies should always be included in your food defense plan, but sometimes it produces diminishing returns if VA facilitators try to get too creative with mitigation strategies. Also, it is usually better to be able to modify an existing process or form than having to create a new one.

Lesson 11: In cases of multi-site assessments, teams at one plant may reach a different conclusion than another plant on whether an identical point, set or procedure is an APS. This is not necessarily a problem, as there may be different inherent conditions from one site to the next. However, we strongly suggest that there be a final overall review from a quality control standpoint to analyze such inconsistencies adjudicate accordingly where there is no basis for varying conclusions.

Lesson 12: If there is no person formally responsible for physical security at your site, you may have a potential gap in a critical subject matter area. Physical security measures will make at least a partial contribution to food defense. Over 30 years, we have seen many organizations deploy electronic access control, video surveillance and lock and key control systems ineffectively, which provides a false sense of security and results in unidentified vulnerability. It is as important to select the right physical security measures to deploy, but also critical to administer them in a manner that meets the intended outcome. Most companies do not have the luxury of a full-time security professional, but someone at the plant needs to be provided with a basic level of competency in physical security to optimize your food defense posture. We have developed several online training modules that can help someone who is new to security on key food defense processes and security system administration.

Lesson 13: As companies move into ongoing implementation and execution of the mitigation strategies, it is important to check that your mitigation strategies are working correctly. You will be required to have a monitoring component, correction action and verification intended for compliance assurance. However, one of the most effective programs we recommend for our clients’ food defense and physical security programs is the penetration test. The penetration test is intended to achieve continuous improvement when the program is regularly challenged. The Safe Quality Food (SQF) Institute may agree with this and now requires facilities that are SQF certified to challenge their food defense plan at least once annually. We believe that frequency should be higher. Simple challenge tests can be conducted in 10 minutes or less and provide substantial insight into whether your mitigation strategies are properly working or whether they represent food defense theater. For instance, if a stranger were sent through the plant, how long would it take for employees to recognize and either challenge or report the condition? Another test might include placing a sanitation chemical in the production area at the wrong time. Would employees recognize, remove and investigate that situation? Challenge tests are easy high impact activities; and regardless of the outcome, can be used to raise awareness and reinforce positive behaviors.

Whether training a new security officer, reviewing existing security plans or preparing for an upcoming vulnerability assessment (due July 26, 2020), these lessons learned from experienced security consultants should help to focus efforts and eliminate unnecessary steps at your facility. The final installment in this series will address broad mitigation strategies, the “Three Element” approach and food defense plan unification. Read the final installment of this series on Lessons Learned from Intentional Adulteration Vulnerability Assessments, Part III.

Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Food Fraud: Where Do I Start?

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D.
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Karen Everstine, Decernis

I attended the Safe Food California Conference last week in Monterey, California. Food fraud was not the main focus of the conference, but there was some good food fraud-related content. Craig Wilson gave a plenary session about the past, present and future of food safety at Costco. As part of that presentation, he discussed their supplier ingredient program. This program was implemented in response to the 2008 Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak in peanut paste but has direct applicability to food fraud prevention.

Food Fraud: Problem Solved? Learn more at the 2019 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | May 29–30, 2019 | Attend in Rockville, MD or virtually Jeanette Litschewski from SQFI gave a breakout presentation on the most common SQF non-conformities in 2018. She presented data from 7,710 closed audits that cited 44,439 non-conformities. Of those, 756 were related to food fraud requirements. While this presentation was not focused on the specifics of the food fraud non-conformities, Jeanette did mention that many of them were related to broad issues such as not having completed a food fraud vulnerability assessment or appropriately documenting that each of the required factors was addressed in an assessment.

I was invited to give a breakout presentation with an overview of food fraud issues globally and a brief outline of some of the tools currently available to assist with conducting vulnerability assessments. Although many of the attendees had already began implementation of food fraud measures, there was a lot of interest in this list of tools and resources. Therefore, I am recreating the list in Table I. The focus is on resources that are either complimentary or affordable for small- and medium-sized businesses, with recognition that “full-service” and tailored consulting services are always an option.

Food Fraud Resources (Table I)
Food Fraud Mitigation Training Food Fraud Vulnerability Assessments Food Fraud Data/Records
Michigan State Massive Open Online Courses for Food Fraud SSAFE/PwC Decernis Food Fraud Database
Food Fraud Advisors Online Training Courses USP FFMG FPDI Food Adulteration Incidents Registry
Food Fraud Advisors Vulnerability Assessment Tools (downloadable spreadsheets):

The USP Food Fraud Mitigation Guidance referenced in Table I is a great source of general information on food fraud mitigation, as is the “Food Fraud Prevention” document created by Nestle. Many of the GFSI Certification Programme Owners have also released guidance documents about vulnerability assessments, such as BRC, FSSC 22000, and SQF.

The Decernis Food Fraud Database and the FPDI Food Adulteration Incidents Registry (see Table I) are two sources of historical food fraud data that are referenced specifically in the SSAFE/PwC tool. Companies can also track official information about food safety recalls and alerts (including related to food fraud) from public sources such as the FDA Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts; Import Refusals; Warning Letters; USDA Recalls and Public Health Alerts; EU RASFF, and many others.

Of course, there are quite a few companies that offer tailored tools, training and consulting services. Companies that offer courses in food fraud mitigation and assistance in creating a vulnerability assessment (or FDA-required food safety plan) include NSF, Eurofins, AIB International, SGS, and The Acheson Group.

Also available are services that compile food safety recalls and alerts (including those resulting from food fraud) from multiple official sources, such as FoodAKAI and HorizonScan. EMAlert is a proprietary tool that merges public information with user judgment to inform food fraud vulnerability. Horizon Scanning is a system that can monitor emerging issues, including food fraud, globally.

Food fraud mitigation, vulnerability assessment
Vulnerability assessments should help focus resources towards those ingredients truly at risk of fraudulent adulteration.

In short, there are many resources available to help support your food fraud vulnerability assessments and mitigation plans. If I have unintentionally missed mentioning any resources you have found to be helpful, please let us know in the comments.

Jill Bender, SafetyChain

GFSI in the Age of FSMA Series Helps Companies Prepare for FSMA Compliance

By Jill Bender
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Jill Bender, SafetyChain

The “GFSI in the Age of FSMA” three-part series wrapped up in early December, providing the food safety community insight on how leading GFSI schemes align with, and help prepare for, compliance with FSMA.  The series was presented by SafetyChain with media partner FoodSafetyTech.

Each GFSI scheme leader from SQF, BRC and FSSC 22000 discussed how their schemes align with FSMA in several key areas, including Supply Chain Controls, migrating Food Safety Plans from HACCP to HARPC, and audit readiness. While each scheme leader provided insights and details on how their scheme aligns with FSMA, common key themes across all three sessions included: 

  • FSMA’s focus on prevention vs. reaction is similar and aligns with GFSI’s objectives; Scheme certifications and ongoing compliance is centered around continuously assessing risks and putting preventive measures in place to mitigate those risks
  • GFSI’s global approach surrounding a company’s food safety program—to ensure better supply chain controls internally, upstream and downstream prepares companies to manage FSMA’s increased focus on both domestic and foreign supplier compliance
  • GFSI stringent documentation and recordkeeping requirements—along with unannounced audit protocols—are a strong foundation to help food and beverage companies prepare for FSMA’s “if it isn’t documented you didn’t do it” mantra

The GFSI scheme leaders also spoke about the importance and opportunity companies have to leverage technology tools to help more effectively manage the complexities and requirements of GFSI and FSMA compliance.  Series participants were able to see an example of how these automation tools work and the impact they can have on managing a robust food safety program via a post session demo of SafetyChain Software.

Archived recordings of all three sessions—SQF in the Age of FSMA, featuring Robert Garfield, Senior VP, SQF; BRC in the Age of FSMA, featuring John Kukoly, Director, BRC Americas; and FSSC 22000 in the Age of FSMA, featuring Jacqueline Southee, U.S. Liaison, FSSC 22000—are available and can be accessed here.

Robert Garfield, Senior Vice President of the Safe Quality Food Institute

How Does SQF Certification Prepare You for Better FSMA Compliance?

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Robert Garfield, Senior Vice President of the Safe Quality Food Institute

“Over a period of time, things have changed for the corner suite, and many CEOs and presidents of corporations understand that with the media today and the way that FDA has improved its ability to focus on contamination, something needed to happen,” said Robert Garfield, senior vice president at SQFI during the recent “SQF in the Age of FSMA” webinar. “It’s not everything that we wanted…but it’s a rule that brings the regulations up to where they need to be in this century.”

GFSI leaders will be available during the Food Safety Consortium conference. On Wednesday, November 18, don’t miss the session, “The Role of Technology in Ensuring Accessible, Actionable Data to Tackle FSMA Compliance”. LEARN MOREGarfield discussed the role of SQF certification in FSMA compliance during part one of the 2015 GFSI Leadership webcast series. Hot topics included:

  • Foreign supplier verification program alignment
  • Building a food safety plan, including HACCP to HARPC migration
  • Being audit ready and record keeping requirements
  • Environmental monitoring
  • “Farm-to-fork” and safety controls
  • SQF scheme changes to align with FSMA
  • How SQF fills in the gaps in FSMA requirements

The next webinar takes place Friday, October 30 and covers the alignment of BRC certification with FSMA. John Kukoly, director of BRC Americas, is the featured speaker. Register here for the complimentary webinar.

GFSI Recognizes SQF Scope Extension for Storage and Distribution

Scope J, Provision of Storage and Distribution Services, is the latest extension to the SQF scopes covered by the GFSI benchmarking requirements, and includes the management of safety schemes for storage facilities and the distribution vehicles for food and feed.

The Global Food Safety Initiative Board of Directors is pleased to announce that SQF has achieved recognition against the Guidance Document Sixth Edition for the scope of Storage and Distribution (J). This is in addition to the scopes for which SQF has already achieved GFSI recognition (AI, BI, C, D, EI, EII, EIII, EIV, F, L and M). The GFSI Guidance Document’s Scope J, Provision of Storage and Distribution Services, is the latest extension to the scopes covered by the GFSI benchmarking requirements, and includes the management of safety schemes for storage facilities and the distribution vehicles for food and feed.

Scopes of Recognition

GSFI-SQF-Scope-Jan-2015The GFSI Benchmark Committee was led by Kevin Swoffer, director, KPS Resources Ltd with the support of Cloeann Durham, Sr. Director Quality ; CCBCC, The Coca-Cola Company and Bizhan Pourkomailian, Director Food Safety and Supplier Workplace Accountability, McDonald’s.

“The GFSI Board is delighted to recognize yet another food safety scheme against the GFSI requirements for storage and distribution activities. SQF now offers another option to companies looking for food safety management solutions in this part of the supply chain,” said Cenk Gurol, Aeon, Chairman of the GFSI Board.

“SQFI is pleased to announce the recognition and benchmarking of our Storage and Distribution of Food Products Program by GFSI. We are excited to offer these highly anticipated benchmarked modules to our stakeholders so they can be assured they are transporting and storing perishable and non-perishable food and feed products safely,” said LeAnn B Chuboff, Senior Technical Director, SQFI.

The Safe Quality Food (SQF) program is recognized by retailers and foodservice providers around the world as a rigorous, credible food safety management system. It is the only certification system recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) that offers certificates for primary production, food manufacturing, distribution and agent/broker management. This enables suppliers to assure their customers that food has been produced, processed, prepared and handled according to the highest possible standards, at all levels of the supply chain.

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is a business-driven initiative for the continuous improvement of food safety management systems to ensure confidence in the delivery of safe food to consumers worldwide. GFSI was launched in 2000 following a number of food safety crises when consumer confidence was at an all-time low. Its collaborative approach to food safety brings together international food safety experts from the entire food supply chain 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.

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) was founded to deliver equivalence and convergence between effective food safety management systems through its benchmarking process and continues to flourish in doing so. Benchmarking is a “procedure by which a food safety‐related scheme is compared to the GFSI Guidance Document”. The benchmarking process determines equivalency against an internationally recognized set of food safety requirements, based on industry best practice and sound science. These requirements are developed through a consensus building process by key stakeholders in the food supply chain and can be found in the GFSI Guidance Document Sixth Edition, freely available for download on www.mygfsi.com.

California Apple Packing Facility Linked to Listeria Outbreak

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control has confirmed that two strains of Listeria monocytogenes found at Bidart Bros. facility in Shafter, CA, are identical to those in an outbreak that has sickened 34 in the U.S. and Canada, and killed at least three in the U.S.

Another four people who had the outbreak strains have died, and one woman who had the outbreak strain had a miscarriage. However, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Jan. 12 they are waiting for confirmation from state authorities that listeria was the cause of death in those cases.

Initially the outbreak was only associated with caramel and candy apples from companies that Bidart had supplied.

However, three of the 32 sick people in the U.S. reported eating whole or sliced “green” apples before becoming ill, according to the CDC. All but one of the sick people in the U.S. had to be hospitalized.

As of Jan. 10, 25 of the 28 sick people interviewed by health officials reported eating caramel or candy apples before becoming ill.

Bidart Bros. officials recalled their entire 2014 crop of granny smiths and galas shipped from its Shafter, facility, notifying customers in a letter on January 6. A special website, www.bidartapplerecall.com, has been set up to help people and companies related to the recall and outbreak.

So far, no details have been revealed about who received the apples from Bidart or what volumes were shipped. “Bidart Bros. is contacting all of their retailers with specific instructions as to how to return those apples to Bidart Bros.,” according to a news release from Bidart Bros. that was posted on the FDA’s website Jan. 9.

Public health warnings and recalls are in effect in Canada and several brands of caramel and candy apples are under recall, as is the entire 2014 crop of granny smiths and galas from Bidart Bros., according to the Canadian food Inspection Agency. Sliced apples marketed by Scotian Gold Co-operative Ltd. are also now included in the Canadian recall. The Scotian Gold sliced apple products were distributed to retailers in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, according to the recall notice.

The CDC report shows the first confirmed illness in the U.S. began on Oct. 17. As of the agency’s Jan. 10 report, the most recent confirmed case started Dec. 12. More cases could be confirmed because listeria can take up to 70 days to develop into a detectable infection. The testing and reporting process takes an average of two to four weeks, further delaying the reports to CDC.

Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

SQF: Where is it Going and What Does it Mean to You

By Sangita Viswanathan
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Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

In a recent webinar, Robert Garfield, Senior Vice President of the Safe Quality Food Institute talked about the SQF standard, changes made in 2014, what is expected in 2015, and how companies can use SQF to be better prepared to comply with rules proposed under the Food Safety Modernization Act. We present below some excerpts from the webinar, organized under the 2014 GFSI Leadership Series. The next webinar in the series will focus on FSSC 22000. Click here to register.

Where is SQF going in 2015 and beyond?

Garfield: The standard is going to be focused on enhanced compliance programs and improving the database reporting systems. For instance, if it concerns someone in the bakery or dairy industry, we would like to know how they are doing versus the industry as a whole. We are hoping that better database reporting can help with this, especially when it comes to non-compliances.

Another area we are working on is establishing Cooperative Agreements. In 2014, we finalized an agreement with the American Feed Industry Association and we are working with their food safety program. We are hoping to not just work cooperatively with the private sector, but also with various government agencies and other stakeholders.

Other areas we are growing in 2015 are expanding our language alternatives, subject matter training and developing industry specific guidance.

There are many changes proposed to food safety regulations and food safety schemes such as SQF. How will companies be affected by these changes and why is embracing these changes so important to industry?

Garfield: Embracing all these changes is critical for the food industry to do everything they possibly can to ensure that they are making and selling a safe product. At the end of the day, there is no one ‘magic bullet’ solution to food safety. Embracing these changes to food safety rules and standards will help the CEO and management team sleep better at night, knowing that they are doing what they can to protect their product, their brand name and their consumers. Also, companies need to understand that the regulatory climate will completely change in the next few years, so it’s critical for companies to start acting now to meet these new requirements that will start being in effect from October 2015.

How can companies start preparing today for tomorrow’s SQF?

Garfield: I tell companies and retailers I talk to that if they are interested in doing SQF because they want to be ‘GFSI certified,’ that’s the wrong reason to do this. To get started, management commitment and changing the culture of the entire company is critical. Starting from the CEO and going all the way to the man operating machinery on the floor, you should aim to get a commitment to food safety, where food safety management is the most important issue for the company. If you start working on that today, you can accomplish great things for the company in not just reducing recalls, but improving the overall functioning of that company.

How can SQF help prepare companies for FSMA?

Garfield: The first step is to look at the Preventive Controls and the Fresh Produce rules and see how these apply to your company. I suggest hiring an independent expert to take a look at your facility and see how your company fares against these rules and have a better understanding about where you will be when these rules are finalized by October 2015. While you will have one to three years to comply with these rules after that point, you need to get the management buy in and strong food safety management systems in place now. Start now, and don’t wait for the final rules to be announced.

Listen to this complimentary webinar today to learn more about how SQF differs from other food safety programs, unannounced audits, changes with allergen control standards, and how to become SQF certified. Click here to access the recording.

2014 GFSI Leadership Series continues with FSSC 22000: The Road Ahead. Click here to register for this informative webinar on Friday, September 26, 2014, featuring Jacqueline Southee, U.S. Liaison, FSSC 22000, who will talk about what’s new for FSSC 22000 this year, where FSSC 22000 is going in 2015 and beyond, how you will be affected by the changes, and how to start preparing today. Plus Jacqueline will take your questions live!

Robert Garfield, Senior Vice President of the Safe Quality Food Institute

SQF – The Road Ahead: Interview with Robert Garfield

By Michael Biros
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Robert Garfield, Senior Vice President of the Safe Quality Food Institute

Food Safety Tech: We’re very excited to have you kick off the SafetyChain/Food Safety Tech GFSI Leadership Webcast Series with your August 22 webinar, “SQF – The Road Ahead” webinar. Can you start by telling us what is new with SQF today? What are some of the things you’ll be talking about in terms of current changes?

Bob Garfield: We’re very busy here. We have a new version of our code, 7.2, which was introduced in the beginning of July. GFSI benchmarks standards every 3 years. Historically, SQF hasn’t waited for every 3 years to revise our code. This is the second time since our last benchmark that we will be revising our code based on the best science and technology that our stakeholders are putting forward. We’re pretty excited about that. We’ve added in some things that we think are important for all suppliers and people using the SQF code to keep them at the leading edge of science, technology, and the needs of buyers. That’s the primary one, but there are a bunch of things that I will be talking about as well in the webcast, including new modules on produce, feed, and pet food.

FST: We’re sure that unannounced SQF audits will be a topic of many questions during the webcast. What are some of the key takeaways attendees will leave the webinar with on this topic?

Garfield: Change is always difficult for some organizations. I understand why, but going through the SQF process is not to just get a certificate on the wall. We know from our stakeholders that it’s a commitment to food safety management, all the time, from the top to the bottom of a facility’s management. A facility needs to be audit-ready all the time, and we believe that the unannounced audit protocol that we are establishing will allow facilities to accomplish that audit readiness goal. We are fully aware that regulators and other food safety stakeholders are more and more looking at unannounced audits as the direction that food auditing needs to take in order to ensure consumers that what we are doing is the best it can be. It’s the most that we can do to ensure the safety of the food supply.

SQFI LogoFST: You will also be talking about the direction of SQF in 2015 and beyond? Is there a “theme” or specific set of business drivers that are driving future changes to SQF?

Garfield: Yes, there is. The business driver that is the primary focus of SQF is exactly what our executive committee from the Food Marketing Institute has told us – that the value proposition for SQF is to improve safety internationally as much as possible. Retailers are the closest that anyone can get to consumers. They believe that the purpose and the scope of SQF has to be continuous improvement to make food safety as close to foolproof as possible.

FST: What are some of the things we’ll learn in the webinar about why embracing change is critical to the ongoing success of SQF?

Garfield: Change is always critical and important. Embracing change is critical to the success of SQF because it is not a stagnant standard. It changes as science and technology evolve. Food safety and food safety management in particular are two areas that are constantly evolving as we learn more about how to protect the food supply chain, and we continuously update the code to make improvements that reflect this. Change is critical to the success of SQF. We are constantly evolving the code – it’s a process that must be ongoing.

FST: We know that you’ll be providing advice on how companies can start today to prepare for tomorrow’s SQF. Can you tell us some of the topics you’ll be addressing in this part of the webinar?

Garfield: To clarify, SQF doesn’t provide advice – we provide guidance with the SQF code. As we continue to evolve the code, we also evolve our guidance to support that process. I’ll be talking about things we do to help our users and stakeholders to evolve their own knowledge. For example, I’ll discuss our advanced practitioner course that we’ve just started to offer to help practitioners gain better understanding and know-how about how to manage food safety at their facilities.

FST: It has been said that SQF certification is a very good start to preparing for FSMA compliance. What are some of the key points you’ll be addressing when it comes to FSMA compliance?

Garfield: It is a good start. SQF is an international code and there are things in the code that are equal to or above what FSMA is requiring. There are also areas that are different. This is why we’ve hired Dr. David Acheson to do a comparison of our code against FSMA’s proposed preventive control and produce rules. Both of these comparisons are available on our website at www.sqfi.com. We’ll be able to make more comparisons/gap analysis when the final rules come out in 2015. As I discussed with FDA, we’ll look at the final rules and see how we match, exceed, or may need to do some work on our particular code if we think it’s appropriate.

Register for this complimentary webinar by clicking here.