Maintaining compliance with the requirements of a Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) benchmarked scheme is a long-term marriage between the site, its elected certification body (CB), and the scheme owner; once the commitment is made, you’re in it for the long haul. Four popular schemes available to food manufacturers include the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety, Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) 22000, International Featured Standards (IFS) Food standard, and Safe Quality Foods (SQF) Food Safety Code for Manufacturing.
Each scheme is fundamentally similar as it is based on a core set of minimum standards established by the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements document (also known as the GFSI Guidance Document). This provides a framework for scheme owners (also known as certification program owners or CPOs) in establishing and maintaining certification standards and audit protocols, which result in certified food safety management systems (FSMS) of similar quality and effectiveness. At the most basic level, the benchmarking document requires scheme owners to develop standards that contain a core set of FSMS programs based on current, global regulation/ guidance and industry best practices. Notably, some of these programs include a food safety (HACCP) plan, good manufacturing practices (GMPs), food defense plan, food fraud vulnerability assessment, and supplier management program. However, each scheme offers a unique structure, set of requirements, and protocol for assessing a manufacturing site’s food safety system to meet both GFSI requirements and scheme stakeholder input.
These unique differences not only set the scheme apart but offer manufacturers different ways of arriving at the same result—a robust and effective FSMS, which assures safe food for consumers. GFSI scheme owners recognize there is no “one size fits all” FSMS for food manufacturers as food production methods and products are vast and highly differentiated. What matters most is continued and effective implementation of the system to mitigate food safety hazards and threats; therefore, each GFSI benchmarked scheme has unique features to support the many different types of food manufacturers in identifying and managing historical and emerging food safety risks.
The BRC, IFS, and SQF schemes are product and process certification schemes, which means that they set forth specifications for the production of food products. This may include requirements for facility infrastructure, specific requirements for high-risk products, or requirements for process operations. When certifying to a product and process certification scheme, a manufacturing site is tasked with developing and implementing a food safety system, which covers all standard specifications. Conversely, FSSC 22000 is a management system certification scheme, which sets forth requirements for implementing a system of policies and objectives that direct and manage food safety activities of the site.
Some food manufacturers select a scheme based on customer directives or preference, while others make the decision based on similarities between standard requirements and existing site infrastructure and manufacturing practices. And then there are sites that adapt and implement a FSMS that meets the expectations of multiple schemes and hold more than one GFSI certification credential. Companies considering GFSI benchmarked certification for one or more manufacturing sites may additionally want to consider factors such as the certification cycle and whether audits are graded, unannounced audit requirements, and special training or dedicated personnel requirements.
For manufacturing sites considering certification in 2018 (or those curious about what the “other side” offers), TUV USA examines the unique differences of four GFSI benchmarked food safety schemes in the following white paper.
BRC’s Global Standard for Food Safety is currently in its 7th issue with issue 8 set for publication this July. Standard requirements are organized into seven mandatory sections covering (1) Senior management commitment, (2) The food safety plan - HACCP, (3) Food safety and quality management system, (4) Site standards, (5) Product control, (6) Process control, and (7) Personnel. Across the seven sections, there are twelve fundamental requirements, which are programs or activities necessary for the implementation of an effective FSMS. A major non-conformity with the statement of intent for a fundamental requirement results in non-certification.
In issue 8, BRC proposes two additional sections; one will house all high risk/ high care requirements and the other incorporates the Traded Goods module. High risk/ high care requirements are only applicable to those sites producing products that meet the BRC definition of high risk, high care, or ambient high care. The Traded Goods module remains voluntary; sites must opt in for certification against these requirements.
- Food safety and quality certification covered in one standard
- Standard is exclusive to food processing and manufacturing and covers 18 different product categories. Other supply chain sectors such as storage and distribution, manufacturing of packaging, broker, and retail activities are covered by other BRC Global Standards
- Food safety culture focus (requirement for a strategic plan to cultivate a food safety culture proposed in issue 8)
- Annual site audit (full audit each year)
- AA-D grading scale based on the number and severity of audit non-conformities
- Annual recertification (6 months for C or D grades)
- Where a non-conformity is assigned, objective evidence of the corrective action within 28 days of the audit is required (site revisit within 28 days if grade D)
- Public directory of certified suppliers
- Voluntary unannounced audit program (sites opt in)
- Training on implementing standard requirements
- Training in food safety management activities and product categories (e.g., HACCP, vulnerability assessment, internal audit, category specific processes and food safety controls)
- BRC offers a Global Markets program to support small or developing businesses in achieving certification against the Global Standard for Food Safety. The 3-stage approach includes initial assessment against basic food safety requirements of the Standard followed by assessment against intermediate level requirements and finally, all GFSI benchmarked requirements
Version 4.1 of FSSC 22000 was published July 2017 with audits against the new version beginning January 1, 2018. FSSC 22000 includes the requirements of ISO 22000:2005 in addition to sector specific prerequisite programs (defined in ISO technical specifications) and nine additional requirements as stated in part II of the FSSC 22000 standard. ISO 22000:2005 is divided into five main sections covering (1) General requirements of FSMS, (2) Management responsibility, (3) Resource Management, (4) Planning and realization of safe products (including HACCP), and (5) Validation, verification and improvement of the FSMS. Certification against FSSC 22000–Quality is achieved through compliance with ISO 9001:2015.
- Food safety and quality are certified by two separate standards (FSSC 22000 and FSSC 22000-Quality)
- Standard covers 15 supply chain sectors (e.g., farming, food and feed manufacturing, storage and distribution, manufacturing of packaging, production of chemicals, catering)
- Two stage audit (initial certification), which involves (1) assessment of management commitment and site preparedness and (2) assessment of the system
- No grading scale (certification is granted based on conformity to FSSC 22000 standard)
- Three year certification cycle beginning with an initial certification audit and followed by two surveillance audits where one of the two surveillance audits is unannounced. Recertification starts the cycle over
- Where minor non-conformities are assigned, root cause, exposed risks, and corrective action plan are required within 3 months of the audit. Corrective actions must be implemented within 12 months following the audit and assessed at the next audit
- Where major non-conformities are assigned, root cause, exposed risks, and corrective action plan are required within 14 days of the audit. Corrective actions must be implemented within 14 days following the audit and evidence provided to the auditor for verification
- Public directory of certified suppliers
- Training on implementing standard requirements and internal auditing
- FSSC 22000 states that its requirements are globally applicable to all business sizes and type within the food and feed supply chain. However, FSSC 22000 also provides a tiered Global Markets Program to support small and developing businesses in achieving GFSI benchmarked certification
The IFS Food standard, v6.1 was recently published (November 2017) with audits against new requirements beginning July 1, 2018. The IFS Food scheme is most similar in structure to the BRC Food Safety standard as compared to other standards reviewed in this paper. The standard is divided into six main sections, including the following: (1) Senior management responsibility, (2) Quality and food safety management system, (3) Resource management, (4) Planning and production processes, (4) Measurements, analysis, improvements, and (6) Food defense and external inspections. Across the standard are ten Knock Out (KO) requirements, which lead to non-certification if not well-implemented by the site. Certification covers both product and technology scopes and is granted at either the Foundation Level (i.e., score ≥75%) or Higher Level (i.e., score ≥95%).
- Food safety and quality certification covered in one standard
- Standard is exclusive to food processing and manufacturing (includes 11 different product categories and 6 technology scopes). Other supply chain sectors are covered by other IFS standards such as the Broker, Logistics, Wholesale/ Cash & Carry, Household and Personal Care (HPC), and PACsecure standards
- Annual site audit (full audit each year) Each requirement is scored based on the following grading scheme: A (Full compliance), B (Almost full compliance), C (Small part of requirement is implemented), D (Requirement not implemented). A “Knock Out” (KO) or major non-conformity further deducts points from the audit score and prevents certification; a new initial audit is required
Where 1 major NC is assigned and the audit score is ≥75%, certification may be granted after a follow-up audit within 6 months, which demonstrates that the major NC from the previous audit is controlled and corrective action plan fully implemented
- Annual recertification
- Site must complete the action plan prepared by the auditor (includes corrective actions for deviations and non-conformities) within 2 weeks of receiving the preliminary audit report
- Voluntary unannounced audit program (sites opt in)
- Private directory - certified companies can grant certificate and report access to retailers or other users via the IFS Audit Portal and have the ability to search for other certified companies
- Training on implementing standard requirements Training in food safety management activities (e.g., HACCP, food defense, pest control)
- IFS offers a tiered Global Markets Food scheme, which includes basic and intermediate level checklists that must be implemented within the required timeframe. Each checklist serves as a stepping stone for small and developing businesses to achieve IFS Food certification
Edition 8 of the SQF Food Safety Code for Manufacturing and SQF Quality Code were published April 2017; audits against edition 8 begin January 1, 2018. The Food Safety Code is structured according to system elements, which are mandatory for all food sector categories (FSCs) covered by the Code, and the relevant GMP module specific to the FSC included in the scope of certification. System elements cover the food safety system, prerequisite programs (e.g., food defense and allergen management), and management system requirements such as document control and recordkeeping. The GMP modules focus on key elements of facility infrastructure and utilities, sanitation, personnel hygiene, preventing/ managing contamination, and storage and transport. GMP requirements vary depending upon the FSC.
- Food safety and quality are certified by two separate standards (Food Safety Code and Quality Code)
- Requires a designated SQF Practitioner per manufacturing site with responsibility for overseeing the development, implementation and maintenance of the SQF system. Minimum competency and training requirements must be met for the individual in this role
- Standard is exclusive to food processing and manufacturing. There are 22 different FSCs covered by the standard, including animal feed production. Other supply chain sectors such as storage and distribution, manufacturing of packaging, farming, and retail activities are covered by other Food Safety Codes
- Two stage audit (initial certification), which involves (1) desk audit and (2) site audit. Non-conformities from the desk audit must be closed before advancing to the site audit
- Numerically scored audit based on number and severity of non-conformities. Audit scores are as follows: E (excellent), G (good), C (complies), F (fails)
- Annual recertification (6 month surveillance audit required for C grade)
- Corrective actions for minor and major non-conformities must be verified by the auditor/ CB within 30 days. Extensions to corrective action implementation may be approved where justification, timeline and risk mitigation measures are documented
- Public directory of certified suppliers Mandatory unannounced audit once within a 3 year certification cycle. Sites can voluntarily elect for annual unannounced audits and be referred to as a "SQF Select Site"
- Training includes Implementing SQF Systems and Advanced Practitioner courses
- SQF offers a Food Safety Fundamentals scheme, which is an entry-level Food Safety Code for small or developing businesses. The Food Safety Fundamentals scheme is not GFSI benchmarked
British Retail Consortium (BRC). 2015. Global Standard for Food Safety, issue 7. London, England: BRC.
Food Marketing Institute (FMI). 2017. SQF Food Safety Code for Manufacturing, edition 8. Arlington, VA: FMI.
Foundation FSSC 22000. 2017. Food Safety System Certification 22000, v4.1. Gorinchem, The Netherlands: Foundation FSSC 22000.
IFS Management GmbH. 2017. IFS Food, v6.1. Berlin, Germany: IFS.
About the Authors
Lori Carlson provides independent technical writing, training and consultation services to the food and beverage industry. She has over a decade of experience in verification and validation, risk assessment, food safety and quality management systems, GFSI benchmarked schemes, regulatory compliance, and third party certification. Lori has authored numerous white papers, magazine articles and guidance documents and has contributed to the development of various food safety standards and food professional training courses for GFSI scheme owners and certification bodies. Contact the author through LinkedIn.
Paul Fallaw is the Program Manager of the Food Safety Division. Paul spent the last 10 years auditing and consulting and is a recognized food specialist with in-depth expertise in quality assurance, product development, regulatory affairs, manufacturing, and packaging.
Prior to a career in third-party certification, Paul held various roles in Quality Assurance and Regulatory Compliance with Hain Celestial Food Group, Cargill and Kraft Foods. His strong analytical abilities, proven technical leadership and management skills make him a great addition to the TUV USA team. Paul has a B.S. in Chemical Biology from Rhodes College in Memphis, TN.