When I started out in the food industry 25 years ago, food safety wasn’t even a buzz word yet, and many in the industry believed that making food safe was merely a matter of adjusting the pH or pasteurizing. I had a boss whose favorite saying was, “no self-respecting pathogen would be caught alive below pH 4.6”. How little we understood back then and how different the food safety landscape is today. The Global Food Safety Initiative and the Food Safety Modernization Act have arguably had the biggest impact on the industry since Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” spurred passage of the Pure Food and Drug act in 1906. GFSI was created as an outcome of food safety crises in 2000 that rocked the industry and resulted in the large retailers taking a bigger role in driving food safety initiatives. The aim of the initiative is to strengthen consumer trust by creating a universally accepted food safety audit schema that reduces food safety risk to the consumer, while at the same time managing cost, redundancy and operational efficiency in the food industry, and improving the effectiveness of global food systems.
The vision is fantastic, but implementing a GFSI food safety schema in a food manufacturing facility is a daunting task, especially for small to mid-sized food companies. It can take a year or longer to prepare for a certification audit and maintaining the certification becomes critical as no facility wants to end up on the “de-certified” list. The most important thing to understand about achieving certification from one of the GFSI approved certification bodies, is that it takes a team of people, and everyone in your facility has to be involved to some degree. As consultants, our role is to help clients put the structure in place to support an on-going food safety team and help clients understand how to build a food safety culture that is supported by upper management. With a food safety culture in place, achieving and maintaining certification is just part of the everyday work of a company. Without it, a plant may achieve certification, but it will be costly and challenging to maintain it.
Recently, I completed the SQF Institute’s “Implementing SQF Systems” training and received a certificate of attainment as an SQF Practitioner. As I sat through the class, it struck me just how much documentation is required to pass an audit and how challenging and time consuming it is to put the documentation in place, especially for small companies. Another key tool for any company embarking on certification is good project management. The team implementing the food safety program needs to first understand the scope of what needs to be done, and then determine how to identify the tasks to be completed and break those down into manageable chunks for the team to work on. Taking an iterative approach to passing a certification audit can be a great way for a team to keep from being overwhelmed by the project and stay on track with their certification timeline.
So while, implementing a GFSI compliant food safety program can be a scary thing for a small food company, it is manageable if companies use the right tools and take an approach that instills food safety into their culture. If you want more information about how to do this, give us a call, we can help. And check out our free Excel based supplier document request tracker. This is a great tool to help small to medium sized food companies track supplier document requests and supplier/ingredient approval.