GFSI and food safety
Over the long term, GFSI schemes will reduce the number of food safety recalls
I’m probably not alone in wondering why government food safety authorities such as the CFIA and the USFDA seem to be reluctant in accepting a food processor’s GFSI audit results as validation of a company’s compliance with national food safety standards. After all, doesn’t GFSI stand for Global Food Safety Initiative, of which there are now 13 accredited schemes in North America?
Many food processors believe that being accredited under a GFSI scheme is the cost of doing business today. Worldwide it is estimated that there are over 15,000 food and beverage manufacturers certified in a GFSI scheme. Billions of dollars have been and continue to be invested in getting and staying accredited. In addition to these investments, considerable sums of money and countless hours have been and continue to be invested in developing and administering GFSI schemes. Surprisingly, these investments to improve food safety seem to have had little impact on reducing the number of food recalls in Canada and the U.S.
The efficacy of GFSI
A peer-reviewed paper appeared in the Journal of Food Protection late last year entitled “Impact of the Global Food Safety Initiative on Food Safety Worldwide: Statistical Analysis of a Survey of International Food Processors.” The lead researcher was Philip Crandall of the University of Arkansas, and included others such as Frank Viannas, vice-president of Food Safety at Walmart. The researchers emailed more than 15,000 questionnaires to employees of GFSI-certified companies who had been identified by that company’s GFSI-certifying third-party auditor as “knowledgeable about the food safety culture in their facilities.” Of the 828 completed questionnaires returned, 52 per cent were from North America (Canada, U.S. and Mexico), 34 per cent came from Europe, 10 per cent came from the Pacific region, and the remainder were from other parts of the globe. Most of the respondents were certified in either BRC or SQF schemes.
After analyzing the responses, the researchers reported the following results and observations:
- Most companies became certified to comply with a customer’s request.
- The potential for new customers was another reason for getting certified.
- A majority of respondents reported that being certified in a GFSI scheme had improved the safety of their company’s food products.
- Some reported a reduction in recalls, waste, customer complaints and out-of-specification products.
- Almost all of the respondents felt that GFSI certification was beneficial.
- Close to half of the respondents reported a decrease in the “required corrective actions following audits after certification.”
- A significant number of respondents reported improvements in product quality.
- Many felt that their company had increased sales as a result of GFSI certification.
- Nearly three-quarters of respondents who were not required by customers to become GFSI certified said that they would recertify.
On a less positive note, the researchers also reported the following findings:
- The frequency of third-party audits only decreased marginally.
- Over 80 per cent of companies reported that certification required “a significant investment of staff time.”
- Over half of responding companies had to make “significant changes” to their original food safety programs.
- The majority were spending more time doing internal audits and training of both production and management personnel.
- Half of the respondents reported having to make “significant capital investments.”
- Slightly less than half of respondents had to hire additional personnel.
- “There has been no significant decrease in the number of food safety recalls” in the U.S. between 2013 and 2015, when this study was done.
As the researchers reported, U.S. food recall numbers have not decreased. Neither do Canadian food recall numbers show any encouraging decline for these and more recent years. Why could this be happening?
One explanation could be that the improvements in food safety coming from GFSI schemes are being offset by more recalls initiated by the GFSI schemes themselves. However, I believe that over the long term GFSI schemes will reduce the number of food safety recalls. Until that happens, I can understand the positions taken by the regulatory agencies.
Dr. R.J. (Ron) Wasik PhD, MBA, CFS, is president of RJW Consulting Canada Ltd. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org