GFSI Food Safety Standards
GFSI Food Safety Standards
Several standards exist to help companies comply with food-safety
laws. Any of them can help your company reduce costly recalls.
safety standards have been well accepted in Europe for quite some time.
But as international food trade expanded, it was apparent that the
existing private and public food-safety policies could not stave off the
food recalls that were occurring worldwide. A representation of common
ground between food safety schemes was needed to enhance food safety,
ensure consumer protection, and to strengthen consumer confidence.
To address these needs, the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) was
coordinated and launched in May 2000 by CIES–The Food Business Forum,
an independent global food business network headquartered in Paris.
Founded in 1953, CIES has developed numerous programs for retailers and
supply chains, and continues to facilitate the development of common
positions and tools on strategic and practical issues affecting the food
business. CIES shares best practices throughout 150 countries.
The GFSI is a nonprofit foundation created under Belgian law with a
mission to work on continuous improvement in food safety management
systems to ensure confidence in the delivery of food to consumers. The
GFSI objectives are to:
• Promote convergence between food safety
standards through maintaining a benchmarking process for food safety
• Improve cost efficiency throughout the food
supply chain through the common acceptance of GFSI-recognized standards
by retailers around the world
• Provide a unique international stakeholder
platform for networking, knowledge exchange, and sharing of best food
safety practices and information
The GFSI guidance document was developed for guidance and to set
commonly agreed criteria as a framework to which food-safety-related
schemes can be benchmarked. It is not a standard and GFSI is not
involved in certification or accreditation activities.
Currently in its fifth edition, the guidance document provides the
procedure for benchmarking of food safety management schemes, the key
elements for the production of food within a conforming food safety
management standard (i.e., good manufacturing practices, or an HACCP
program or equivalent system ), and guidance on the certification
processes of a food safety management system.
Currently there are four food safety standards formally benchmarked to
GFSI. They are the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) Global Standard for
Food Safety, the International Food Standard (IFS), the (Dutch)
National Board of Experts Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point
(NBE HACCP) Option B, and the Safe Quality Food (SQF) 2000 Code.
In this article, we’ll analyze the Global Standard for Food Safety and
SQF 2000. We’ll also discuss ISO 22000, due to its international
presence. ISO 22000 is currently undergoing the GFSI benchmarking
process, and may soon be recognized.
BRC Global Standard for Food Safety
The BRC Global Standard for Food Safety is an accredited, certifiable
standard, and the first one to be approved by GFSI in 2000. It has been
adopted by more than 8,000 food businesses in more than 80 countries.
It sets out the requirements for food businesses that process food or
are involved with the preparation of primary products for supply as
retailer-branded products and branded products. It also covers food or
ingredients for use by food-service companies, catering companies, and
The principles of the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety are based on
two key components: senior management commitment and HACCP–an approach
to food safety that identifies where a likely health hazard may occur,
then establishes and maintains safety measures to prevent the hazard
Each clause of the standard begins with a “statement of intent” to which
a company must comply to be certified. Within the standard are certain
fundamental requirements that relate to systems that are crucial to the
establishment and operation of an effective food safety program. These
fundamental requirements together with the statement of intent specify
the criteria against which the audit will be carried out. The clauses
that are deemed fundamental are:
• Clause 1–”Senior management commitment and
• Clause 2–”The food safety plan–HACCP”
• Clause 3.5–”Internal audits”
• Clause 3.8–”Corrective and preventive action”
• Clause 4.3.1–”Layout, product flow and
• Clause 4.9–”Housekeeping and hygiene”
• Clause 5.2–”Handling requirements for
specific materials–Materials containing allergens and identity
• Clause 6.1–”Control of operations”
• Clause 7.1–”Training”
Safe Quality Food 2000 Code
The SQF 2000 Code is designed for use in all sectors of the food
industry as a HACCP-based quality management system to reduce the
incidence of unsafe food reaching the marketplace. It is a food safety
program that also covers product quality. It offers benefits to
suppliers and buyers at all links in the food supply chain by addressing
the buyer’s food safety and quality requirements, and provides a
solution for the suppliers.
First launched in 1994, The Food Marketing Institute acquired the rights
to the SQF program in 2003 and established the SQF Institute (SQFI)
division to manage the program. Now in its sixth edition, SQF 2000 Code
is recognized by GFSI as meeting its benchmark requirements. It is the
only GFSI-recognized certification system that links primary production
certification to food manufacturing, distribution, and agent/broker
The program provides independent certification that a supplier’s food
safety and quality management system complies with international and
domestic food safety regulations. This enables suppliers to help 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.
Levels of certification
The SQF 2000 Code is divided into three certification levels: Level 1
covers food safety fundamentals; at Level 2, certified HACCP food safety
plans are recognized by GFSI; and at Level 3, comprehensive food safety
and quality management system actions exceed the GFSI benchmark
The SQF program has many unique features that help ensure trust and
consistency in the auditing process. Certification bodies that are
licensed by the SQFI to perform SQF audits are subject to regular
assessments of their certification and audit activities by
internationally recognized accreditation bodies licensed by SQFI.
Auditors are only permitted to perform audits in the food industry
sectors for which they have been registered, and in which they have
extensive expertise and experience.
ISO 22000–”Food safety management systems–Requirements for any
organization in the food chain” specifies the requirements for a
food-safety management system that combines the following generally
recognized key elements to ensure food safety along the food chain, up
to the point of final consumption: interactive communication, system
management, prerequisite programs, and HACCP principles.
The ISO 22000 standard delivers a common global framework of safety
requirements for all organizations in the food supply chain, including
crop production, processing, distribution, and related operations. It is
an international standard that harmonizes various existing national and
industry certification schemes.
ISO 22000 incorporates all seven of the contemporary HACCP principles
and implementation plans. Overall, ISO 22000 creates an effective
framework for food safety management, communication along the food
supply chain, and control of food safety hazards.
ISO 22000 is recognized by more than 157 stakeholder countries around
the world. Accredited audits are carried out by certification bodies in
accordance to ISO 22003–”Food safety management systems–Requirements
for bodies providing audit and certification of food safety management
systems.” Auditors must inspect as many product lines in the
manufacturing facility as possible, and prerequisites must be audited at
every site inspection. As per other ISO standards, the auditing cycle
takes three years, including a first-year, longer inspection and shorter
surveillance audits in the next two years.
Benefits of certification
So how does being certified to an accredited food safety standard
benefit your business? With specific safety and, in some cases, quality
requirements, and system requirements, each of the standards requires a
detailed third-party independent assessment (certification audit) that
is carried out on site at least once per year. The purpose of this audit
is to ensure that systems are in place, monitored, in use, and
effective. This independent measure is not used as a “snapshot” of
current conditions; rather, it evaluates the overall process and
mechanics of the operations, assessing the ability to function
day-to-day and in times of crises.
The requirements to be met to gain certification are rigorous and
well-defined in each standard. The requirement is such that all parts of
the standard being evaluated are met, and all nonconformances found
during an audit must be successfully corrected prior to the issuance of
certification status. In addition, as this is a live certification, any
recall is mandated to be reported to the certification body, so that
additional evaluation can be undertaken, if required.
Beyond the act of designing and enhancing your business to meet these
world-class standards, and beyond the annual audit process, the action
of becoming certified, and maintaining this certification, shows
diligence in maintaining the level of product and consumer safety at
world-class standards. A company that is part of our food chain should
be doing nothing less than aiming for the highest level of assurance in
In the end, choosing which standard to utilize and be certified to is
the decision of the individual operation. The act of enhancing and
maintaining a top-level food safety program, and being certified, is
much more of a requirement than a choice in today’s marketplace.
All food safety standards provide the opportunity to thoroughly inspect
an organization’s systems for safely managing food. Through these
inspections, there are clear opportunities to head off food recalls and
maintain a healthy food marketplace.
More important, most standards contain clauses pertaining to the
management of incidents, product recalls, and product withdrawal. There
should be procedures in place to effectively manage incidents and
potential emergency situations that affect food safety, legality, or
quality. Companies are required to define what would constitute an
incident or emergency situation that would require proper reaction.