Numerous deadly outbreaks over the past few years, such as e. coli and salmonella, have created a groundswell of demand for enhanced food safety processes. That outcry is being answered by the implementation of stricter standards and (in the U.S.) the Food Safety Modernization Act.
The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) was launched in 2000 with the purpose of benchmarking existing and new standards to create pragmatic food safety guidelines that are universally recognized. All GFSI approved standards address identifying and managing food hazards and risks, traceability through food distribution channels, and implementing effective methods for food recall when problems are detected. These standards apply not only to growers and food providers, but also to every step of the global food supply chain. The goal is to prevent contaminated food from reaching consumers and to quickly recall spoiled goods while identifying and correcting the source of any problem.
GFSI endorsed standards currently include Safe Quality Foods (SQF), the British Retail Consortium (BRC), The International Food Standard (IFS) and FSSC 22000 for food safety management systems. Each addresses different markets and needs. All build upon a Hazards Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) platform designed to identify and control food hazards and contamination risks. In North America, SQF, BRC and FSSC 22000 are the most popular standards.
The United States Congress has also responded to the need for stricter safety controls. The USDA is tightening its surveillance of meat and poultry providers, processors and distributors. Moreover, the Food Safety Modernization Act passed in 2011 gives the FDA broad authority to establish and enforce safety regulations for both domestic and imported products. This includes the authority to mandate food recalls. It recognizes the work accomplished by the GFSI and is working closely with that organization.
Food retailers and major restaurant chains are not waiting for government regulation. Wal-Mart, Costco, CVS, H-E-B, Safeway, Sam’s Club, Shop-Rite, McDonald’s and Target are already requiring their suppliers to achieve certification to a GFSI approved standard. Growers, providers, processors, packagers, and distributors making up the food supply chain who fail to pass independent audits and maintain their certifications may find themselves locked out of the market.
Both consumers and participants in the global food supply chain benefit from the implementation and enforcement of food safety standards. Foodborne illnesses are reduced and outbreaks quickly controlled. Suppliers reduce their costs by eliminating waste, avoiding re-work and packaging errors, and reducing liability. It is a win-win situation.