The Big Three

Allan Hill



Food safety standards have been now well accepted globally for the past few years. As international food trade has expanded, the existing private and public food-safety policies have not staved off the food recalls that have been occurring worldwide. Common ground between food safety schemes was needed to enhance food safety to ensure consumer protection, and to strengthen consumer confidence.

Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) launched in May 2000, headquartered in Paris, CIES was founded in 1953. They developed numerous programs for retailers and supply chains, and continues to facilitate the development of common positions and tools on strategic and practical issues affecting the food business. CIES shares best practices throughout 150 countries.

GFSI is a nonprofit foundation created under Belgian law with a mission to work on continuous improvement in food safety management systems to ensure confidence in the delivery of food to consumers. The GFSI objectives are to:

• Promote convergence between food safety standards through maintaining a benchmarking process for food safety management scheme
• Improve cost efficiency throughout the food supply chain through the common acceptance of GFSI-recognized standards by retailers around the world
• Provide a unique international stakeholder platform for networking, knowledge exchange, and sharing of best food safety practices and information

GFSI guidance document was developed for guidance and to set commonly agreed criteria as a framework to which food-safety-related schemes can be benchmarked. It is not a standard and GFSI is not involved in certification or accreditation activities.

Currently in its sixth edition, the guidance document provides the procedure for benchmarking of food safety management schemes, the key elements for the production of food within a conforming food safety management standard (i.e., good manufacturing practices, or an HACCP program or equivalent system ), and guidance on the certification processes of a food safety management system.


Currently there are some 14 food safety standards formally benchmarked to GFSI. Of these I am active in three, they are British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) Global Standard for Food Safety, the Safe Quality Food (SQF Code) and FSSC 22000.

BRC Global Standard for Food Safety

The BRC Global Standard for Food Safety is an accredited, certifiable standard, and the first one to be approved by GFSI in 2000. It has been adopted by more than 8,000 food businesses in more than 80 countries.

It sets out the requirements for food businesses that process food or are involved with the preparation of primary products for supply as retailer-branded products and branded products. It also covers food or ingredients for use by food-service companies, catering companies, and food manufacturers.

The principles of the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety are based on two key components: senior management commitment and HACCP–an approach to food safety that identifies where a likely health hazard may occur, then establishes and maintains safety measures to prevent the hazard from occurring.


The SQF Code is designed for use in all sectors of the food industry as a HACCP-based quality management system to reduce the incidence of unsafe food reaching the marketplace. It is a food safety program that also covers product quality. It offers benefits to suppliers and buyers at all links in the food supply chain by addressing the buyer’s food safety and quality requirements, and provides a solution for the suppliers.

First launched in 1994, The Food Marketing Institute acquired the rights to the SQF program in 2003 and established the SQF Institute (SQFI) division to manage the program. Now in its sixth edition, SQF Code is recognized by GFSI as meeting its benchmark requirements. It is the only GFSI-recognized certification system that links primary production certification to food manufacturing, distribution, and agent/broker management certification.

The program provides independent certification that a supplier’s food safety and quality management system complies with international and domestic food safety regulations. This enables suppliers to help assure their customers that food has been produced, processed, prepared, and handled according to the highest possible standards, at all levels of the supply chain.

The SQF Code is divided into three certification levels: Level 1 covers food safety fundamentals; at Level 2, certified HACCP food safety plans are recognized by GFSI; and at Level 3, comprehensive food safety and quality management system actions exceed the GFSI benchmark requirements.

The SQF program has many unique features that help ensure trust and consistency in the auditing process. Certification bodies that are licensed by the SQFI to perform SQF audits are subject to regular assessments of their certification and audit activities by internationally recognized accreditation bodies licensed by SQFI. Auditors are only permitted to perform audits in the food industry sectors for which they have been registered, and in which they have extensive expertise and experience.

FSSC 22000

FSSC 22000–“Food safety management systems–Requirements for any organization in the food chain” specifies the requirements for a food-safety management system that combines the following generally recognized key elements to ensure food safety along the food chain, up to the point of final consumption: interactive communication, system management, prerequisite programs, and HACCP principles.

The FSSC 22000 standard delivers a common global framework of safety requirements for all organizations in the food supply chain, including crop production, processing, distribution, and related operations. It is an international standard that harmonizes various existing national and industry certification schemes.

FSSC 22000 is recognized by more than 157 stakeholder countries around the world. Accredited audits are carried out by certification bodies in accordance to ISO 22003–“Food safety management systems–Requirements for bodies providing audit and certification of food safety management systems.” Auditors must inspect as many product lines in the manufacturing facility as possible, and prerequisites must be audited at every site inspection. As per other ISO standards, the auditing cycle takes three years, including a first-year, longer inspection and shorter surveillance audits in the next two years.



So how does being certified to an accredited food safety standard benefit your business? With specific safety and, in some cases, quality requirements, and system requirements, each of the standards requires a detailed third-party independent assessment (certification audit) that is carried out on site at least once per year. The purpose of this audit is to ensure that systems are in place, monitored, in use, and effective. This independent measure is not used as a “snapshot” of current conditions; rather, it evaluates the overall process and mechanics of the operations, assessing the ability to function day-to-day and in times of crises.

The requirements to be met to gain certification are rigorous and well defined in each standard. The requirement is such that all parts of the standard being evaluated are met, and all non-conformances found during an audit must be successfully corrected prior to the issuance of certification status. In addition, as this is a live certification, any recall that is mandated has to be reported to the certification body, so that additional evaluation can be undertaken, if required.

In the end, choosing which standard to utilize and be certified to is the decision of the individual operation. The act of enhancing and maintaining a top-level food safety program, and being certified, or as more commonly is the case is much more of a requirement than a choice in today’s marketplace by the suppliers customer.

Preventing recalls is what all food safety standards are about as well as provide the opportunity to thoroughly inspect an organization’s systems for safely managing food. Through these inspections, there are clear opportunities to head off food recalls and maintain a healthy food marketplace. More important, these standards contain clauses pertaining to the management of incidents, product recalls, and product withdrawal and to continually test them. So that in the event of a product recall, the company can react quickly to protect the public. Others clauses include:

• adherance to personal hygiene principles, to document infractions in this area, and, through continuous improvement practices, ensure that they do not happen again. Close monitoring in this area reinforces that employees are committed to adhering to the policies, which further ensures compliance in this area.

• include requirements to strictly define and control access points for employees and visitors to the facility. Companies are required to ensure that access will not compromise product safety.

• Monitoring and measurement devices are routinely inspected and calibrated to ensure precise frequencies, quantities, and more.

• Nonconforming product is clearly identified, labeled, and quarantined. Procedures for this control are in place and understood by all relevant staff. Corrective actions shall be implemented to avoid recurrence of nonconformance, and details of the nonconformance shall be documented.

• undertake inspection and analysis that are critical to confirm product safety, legality, and quality. Based on risk assessments, testing and inspection schedules are implemented to ensure that requirements are met. Results should be reviewed regularly to identify trends. In several standards, foreign-body detection equipment is required to be in place.

• All facilities used for the storage and transportation of product, movement around the facility, and dispatch of finished product shall be suitable for the purpose, maintained in good repair, and be in proper hygienic condition.

• Specific parts of the audits are designed to monitor issues such as pest control, waste disposal, chemical management, and other variables.

• The physical facilities, such as ventilation, lighting, utilities, walls, floors, and windows are all inspected to ensure that they are suitable for the intended purpose.

• Security shall be maintained to prevent access of unauthorized persons.

The above measures are examples of how food-safety management system standards create great opportunities for reducing food recalls and ensuring the safety of our food from field to fork.

Finding the standard that suits your organization’s needs is essential to a successful implementation. Make sure to listen to your customer’s demands, get yourself educated about the different food-safety standards through formal training or information sessions, and finally, consider using help during the implementation phase of your project. An external pair of eyes could greatly help you identify your situation, and help you foresee the challenge ahead of you. When you are ready for registration, make sure to look for an accredited registrar that will provide you the assurance you need that your system is in place, and working toward your goals of reducing the risk of recalls and improving the quality and safety of the food that you manufacture.

Further reinforcement

There is no single body that universally enforces food safety standards across the world. Such a measure would require an international body with member states investing in its finances. The Global Food Safety Initiative, or GFSI, argues for stronger international pressure on food distribution and trading.


In the 1960s, a joint effort by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization resulted in the Codex Alimentarius Commission. This commission helps publish and maintain fair trade practices between food and agricultural firms across the world. Like many United Nations resolutions, the actual regulatory powers of the Codex are quite small. The Codex merely suggests countries aim for a certain standard of food safety for its consumers and trading partners.


Trading associations work together to facilitate high standards for food safety. By connecting international trade associations, a majority of food traded falls under a quality check by these associations. The German and French food trading associations developed the International Food Standard, or IFS, to create self-enforced trading policies on food imports and exports.

Ever wonder what this meant

“mystery meat.”

Congress is making a welcome push for higher food-testing standards following reports from government investigators and newspapers that shined a light on glaring gaps in safety standards.

That comes in the face of numerous challenges to improving the food-safety system in general, as millions of people are sickened and 5,000 die annually from food-borne illnesses. Tracking the source of food contamination remains a major concern, as well as the efficiency of enacting recalls. 

With millions of children looking to school lunches for their daily nutrition, it’s critical to assure their safety.

As a result of a USA Today report, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack pledged a fresh review of requirements for ground beef that the USDA supplies to schools. The newspaper reported last month that school kitchens have been sent millions of pounds of beef and chicken that wouldn’t meet the quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants.

In another media report last week, the USDA was faulted for giving a pass on routine safety tests to a major producer of processed beef. Testing eventually done by the agency for the school lunch program found dozens of E. coli and “salmonella pathogens” in Beef Products meat, the New York Times reported. 

A recent report by the Government Accountability Office questioned whether federal agencies are getting out the word to schools about food recalls.

Even China’s in to it

MOH Released 71 National Food Safety Standards


China’s Ministry of Health (MOH) has released 71 national food safety standards in Announcement No.7 to regulate the scope of use, sensory requirements, physicochemical index, etc. Assessment Committee for National Food Safety Standards has approved 71 GB Standards in accordance with China’s Food Safety Law and Measures for management of National Food Safety Standards. Among them, 68 food additives acquire GB Standards for the first time which regulate clearly on scopes, sensory requirements, physicochemical indicators, etc. And they will come into effect on June 25, 2012. The other 3 GB standards are respectively for disinfectant, anti-coherent silicone paint and water soluble epoxy internal coating of food beverage cans, which all replace the old versions and will take effect on October 25, 2012.

And….Behind all these food safety system is the