GFSI: A Detailed Explanation of the What, Why, and How

Posted by Chelsey Davis on June 18, 2015 at 10:00 AM


Regardless of where you are in your Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) journey -- at the starting line, just taking your first steps, or at the finish line -- do you know why you are on the path you're on? Do you understand what all the fuss over GFSI is about?

What is GFSI?

Succinctly, it’s a B2B Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA). It operates quietly and privately within the marketplace between the customers and their suppliers. It operates on not only a global basis, but also on a regional and local basis. "Although people look at the [GFSI] program and see a lot of multinational corporate logos, frankly the majority of our operations are small and medium size facilities at the local level. So we welcome facilities of all natures – large, medium, and small, across the food to fork continuum," Karil Kochenderfer, North American representative, GFSI, said during a recent webinar [Getting Started with GFSI (for manufacturers) - watch on-demand].

GFSI has approximately 25 benchmarked guidances, with some of the latest scope expansions including:

  • Packaging and animal conversion - August 2011

  • Animal feed - June 2012

  • Storage and distribution - October 2013

  • Food brokerage/agents, retail/wholesale - Early 2014

  • Catering, equipment manufacturing, food safety services - 2015

Where are these guidances coming from and how can you be sure that these guidelines are science-based, risk-based, and address the issues in your plant/facility? 

GFSI TriangleAt the very base of GFSI efforts that are ensconced within these guidance on a sector by sector basis, are the international standards of science based within the Codex Standard on Food Hygiene.

On top of that are HACCP standards [Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points].

Above HACCP are National Regulations, which includes FSMA in the U.S. and the Safe Food for Canadians Act in Canada. In Europe, it’s something different, in Japan it’s something different, but all have iterative levels of science-based regulations in place to ensure the safest control of the food and management of the food.

Above national regulation is GFSI Certification. "We go above and beyond the science of Codex, HACCP, and national regulation to perform at the highest level of industry. And our benchmarked schemes [eg. BRC Global Standards (BRC), Food Safety System Certification (FSSC 22000), International Featured Standards (IFS)] go beyond us and corporate programs go even further," Kochenderfer highlighted.

So what you have are several layers of protection that will help protect both consumers and companies.

What are some of the shared benefits for the industry?

  • Meet the requirements for one, meet the requirements for all

  • Reduce duplication of audits

  • Comparable audit approach and outcomes

  • Ensure the continuous improvement and customer opportunity for those GFSI-benchmarked companies

  • Enhance trade opportunities

  • Improve customer confidence in food safety

  • Gain cost efficiencies throughout the supply chain

"We have now built confidence in third-party certification because we have reduced inefficiency in the food system. Now, 'Once Certified, Accepted Everywhere,'" Kochenderfer shared.

John Kukoly, Director of BRC in the Americas, added that companies should pursue GFSI certification for a number of reasons: 

  • Customer mandate

  • FSMA

  • ~40% reduction in product non-conformance

  • Competitiveness

  • Superiority in the market

Right now, only one-third of the industry has achieved GFSI certification, which leaves the remaining two-thirds either still at the starting line or just a few steps into their journey.

How do you choose a GFSI-recognized scheme and get started?

Karil Kochenderfer shared a wonderful chart during a recent webinar that allows users to find out where they fall on the farm-to-fork continuum and further determine which scheme(s) would work for them.

What are the major schemes that apply to food manufacturers?

BRC Global Standards

BRC Global Standards is a leading safety and quality certification program, used by over 20,000 certificated suppliers in 90 countries, with certification issued through a worldwide network of accredited Certification Bodies. The BRC Food Safety Standard is a leading global brand recognised by thousands of customers worldwide, and has certificated over 15,000 suppliers in over 100 countries around the globe. View the checklist!

Safe Quality Food Institute (SQF)

The SQF certification program helps reduce assessment inconsistencies and costs of multiple assessment standards. What’s more, the SQF Program is recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and links primary production certification to food manufacturing, distribution and agent/broker management certification. View the checklist!

International Featured Standards (IFS)

The IFS certification is based on a quality and food safety standard for retailer (and wholesaler) branded food products, which is intended to enable the assessment of suppliers’ food safety and quality systems, in accordance with a uniform approach. This IFS Food applies to all the post-farm gate stages of food processing. View the checklist!

Food Safety System Certification (FSSC)

FSSC 22000 is the world's leading, independently managed, nonprofit food certification scheme for ISO 22000-based certification of food safety management systems. Acknowledged by GFSI for the manufacture and processing of foods and food packaging materials, FSSC 22000 retains the flexibility to add scopes in line with market demands. View the checklist!

Looking to get started with one of these GFSI schemes? We've got checklists, co-produced with scheme owners to ensure accuracy & usability.


Tags: FSMA, Food Safety, GFSI, SQF, brc, IFS, FSSC 22000