In 2000, 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.

The GFSI Guidance Document

In August 2001, GFSI published the first draft of the Guidance Document. The GFSI Guidance Document is not in itself a food safety standard and GFSI is not involved in certification or accreditation activities. This benchmarking model, drafted with input from food safety experts from all over the world, defines the process by which food safety schemes may gain recognition by GFSI. It gives guidance and specifies the requirements for a food safety scheme seeking recognition. It lists the key elements for the production of safe food, feed or packaging, or for service provision. The document is collaboratively updated on a regular basis with global industry input to ensure robust schemes.

The GFSI Guidance Document has a modular format that includes:

Part I - The Benchmarking Process
Part II - Requirements for the Management of Schemes
Part III - Scheme Scope and Key Elements
Part IV - Glossary of Terms

GFSI Guidance Document is:

  • It is a tool which fulfils one of the main objectives of GFSI, that of determining equivalency between food safety management schemes.
  • It provides a formal process for benchmarking
  • It is science-based, contemporary, and rigorous. 

GFSI Guidance Document is not

  • It is not a food safety standard.
  • Food businesses cannot be audited or certified against it
  • It does not dictate policy for food retailers, manufacturers or scheme owners, or prescribe requirements for food quality, animal welfare, environmental standards, or any other area outside the scope of food safety.

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Benchmarking and its relevance

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. This means resources can be redirected to ensure the quality of food produced and sold worldwide. Harmonising food safety standards would increase transparency and efficiency in the supply chain, cut costs and provide assurance of safe food for consumers worldwide. Buying company Quality Managers could accept their supplier’s products without the need for an audit as long as these suppliers maintain certification to a standard recognised by GFSI. This approach is voluntary, and GFSI does not make policy for any stakeholder.

The benchmarking process

Within GFSI, benchmarking is a “procedure by which a food safety‐related scheme is compared to the GFSI Guidance Document”. The process is designed to be executed in an independent, unbiased, technically proficient and transparent manner. A scheme is ‘recognised’ by GFSI when it has been verified that it meets internationally recognised minimum food safety requirements laid out in the GFSI Guidance Document.

An independent benchmarking committee, including an independent chairman, a retailer, a manufacturer or producer and the GFSI secretariat is convened to conduct a preliminary screening. If the application is accepted, then it will be reviewed in further detail by the Benchmarking Committee and the scheme owner will be involved.

Once the Benchmarking Committee is satisfied that the application meets the GFSI requirements, a written consultation period by all GFSI Stakeholders will begin. The benchmarking committee will then recommend that the GFSI Board either accept, reject or reject until further modifications to the scheme are made.

GFSI DOES:

  • Benchmark existing food safety standards that are used starting with the farm and progressing through food distribution, manufacturing, wholesale and retail.
  • Compare existing standards against the requirements of the GFSI Guidance Document.
  • Any standards that are recognised by GFSI will have as a minimum the requirements in the GFSI Guidance Document.

GFSI DOES NOT:

  • Make policy for retailers or manufacturers
  • Make policy for standard owners
  • Undertake any accreditation or certification activities

Supply Chain - Scopes of Recognition

A Technical Working Group was convened in 2009 to define the food supply chain and its varying scopes. As a result, schemes coming forward for benchmarking against the GFSI Guidance Document can clearly specify the scopes covered by their scheme, thereby facilitating communication on exactly which components of a scheme GFSI have been recognised.

Benchmarking criteria (key elements) for the below scopes are currently included in the GFSI Guidance Document. There are currently no key elements covering scopes such as Retail/Wholesale or Food Brokers/Agents, however GFSI is continuously convening working groups to cover all of the scopes in the below diagram, so that eventually the entire supply chain is covered by the GFSI Guidance Document requirements.