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Benchmarking – The History
Back in 2000, food safety was a top of mind issue for companies due to several high-profile recalls, quarantines and negative publicity about the food industry. There was also extensive audit fatigue through the industry, as retailers performed inspections or audits themselves or asked a third party to do this on their behalf. These were often carried out against food safety schemes that lacked international certification and accreditation, resulting in incomparable auditing results.
CEOs of global companies came together at The Consumer Goods Forum (CIES at the time) and agreed that consumer trust needed to be strengthened and maintained through a safer supply chain. GFSI was created to achieve this through the harmonisation of food safety standards that would drive reduce audit duplication throughout the supply chain. At the time, there was no existing scheme that could be qualified as “global” that could be adopted by all. GFSI therefore chose to go down the route of benchmarking, developing a model that determines equivalency between existing food safety schemes, whilst leaving flexibility and choice in the marketplace.
Benchmarking and the GFSI Guidance Document
This benchmarking model is based on the GFSI Guidance Document, a multi-stakeholder document that was drafted with input from food safety experts from all over the world, and defines the process by which food safety schemes may gain recognition by GFSI and gives guidance to these schemes. GFSI drives continuous improvement through the Guidance Document, which is updated on a regular basis with global industry input to ensure that the requirements for food safety management schemes are robust. GFSI does not undertake any certification or accreditation activities.
GFSI Recognised Schemes
On 5th January 2011, GFSI released the Sixth Edition of its Guidance Document. Food safety scheme owners whose food safety management schemes had been previously recognised against the Fifth Edition of the Guidance Document were given until 31st December 2011 to reapply for full benchmarking against the Sixth Edition. The GFSI re-benchmarking process against the Guidance Document Sixth Edition is still ongoing, but an update can be found here.
Benchmarking and Its Relevance for the Food Industry
GFSI encourages buying companies to accept certificates issued during third party audits against the GFSI recognised schemes, thus enabling their suppliers to work more effectively through less audits. As a result, resources can be redirected to continually ensure the quality of food produced and sold worldwide. Under the umbrella of GFSI, many major retail, manufacturer and food service* companies have come to a common acceptance of the GFSI recognised food safety schemes. Through its collective efforts the food industry is aiming to enhance food safety and quality, ensure consumer protection and strengthen consumer confidence worldwide while driving cost efficiencies in the supply chain and reducing the duplication of audits.
Shared Benefits of Using GFSI Recognised Schemes
The GFSI recognised schemes all operate within a wider certification and accreditation context. Accreditation and certification are proven concepts in many industries, including food, and they provide a framework for assessing the pertinence and compliance of food safety management systems. They are widely practiced and accepted in many parts of the world due to the benefits of the checks and balances applied at each stage in the process. They have strong verification and results based procedures. Moreover, they are steeped in an atmosphere of continuous improvement. In addition, many entities in many countries, particularly those in Europe, have made use of accredited, third party certification for the prioritisation of risks. There are however some perceived barriers in relation to the acceptance of third party certification to GFSI recognised schemes, and a White Paper was drafted by the GFSI Global Regulatory Affairs Working Group to facilitate further understanding of GFSI's position.
There are numerous benefits for the entire food industry that are association with the implementation and acceptance of the GFSI recognised schemes.
Transparency in the GFSI Benchmarking Process
In the GFSI Guidance Document Sixth Edition, GFSI committed to full transparency throughout the benchmarking process. To this end, regular updates on each scheme’s progress will be available here, as well as an overview of the scopes of recognition covered by the applicant scheme.