GFSI Certification at Food Manufacturers: SQF and BRC
By Heather Angus-Lee
Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) certification is growing in importance to food companies, as businesses prepare for many components of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Under the GFSI umbrella, the most popular standards are Safe Quality Food (SQF) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Food Standard. Certification to both standards, which offers various levels including food quality as well as safety requirements, requires that companies plan ahead for appropriate time, budget and resources. Two food companies recently certified to GFSI standards have found the process very rewarding—not just because it satisfies the demands of their larger customers for food safety and quality certification, but also because of the business process improvements they’ve achieved as a result.
The world’s largest dry mustard miller G.S. Dunn, which processes mustard out of Hamilton, Ontario, for food companies in 52 countries on six continents, received SQF certification in the summer of 2013. Nancy Post, G.S. Dunn’s director of technical services, who oversaw the year-long process of certification, says to other food companies thinking of doing the same, “Run screaming into the night!…but seriously, make sure you have buy-in from upper management to ensure that the entire SQF code and certification can be implemented. This means group participation from the entire business and adequate resources.”
Post notes that G.S. Dunn’s key customers around the world, especially in the last couple of years, were “directly asking that we get certified to SQF.” The Q in SQF was “hugely important” to the mustard miller, says Post. “The SQF level we chose [Level 3] includes quality parameters that represents key measurable in our product. My own professional background includes several years working in quality management, so I like that part a lot!” G.S. Dunn staff attended sessions at a Food Technology Center to learn the differences between SQF, BRC and FSSC [Food Safety System Certification] “so we could make a wise choice on which standards to follow,” says Post.
At The Original Cakerie (TOC), Canada’s largest privately owned dessert manufacturer that sells almost one-half of their frozen cakes in the U.S., decided to go with the BRC Food Standard which was originally mostly adopted in England but has since spread globally. TOC, a 500-employee company with facilities in Vancouver, BC and London, Ontario, spent 2012 working towards the attainment of BRC’s highest level, ‘A’ grade. IT Director Eric Murphy says TOC was seeking to as well as to augment their customers’ growth with the certification. “We like that the BRC framework focuses a lot on process, requiring commitment from top to bottom within the organization. I also like the flexibility around training that BRC provides...we can bring the training right into our organization, versus always having to go through outside providers.”
The facilities of both TOC and G.S. Dunn already complied with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) certification, and the mustard miller also had ISO 9001:2008 certification. “Having both ISO and HACCP certification was definitely an advantage, says Post at G.S. Dunn, because “SQF is a system that uses some ISO principles, ensuring that our documentation, requirements and quality reviews were compliant with SQF. On the safety side, SQF also incorporated HACCP principles and assessment, with an extra measure of food safety by ensuring we did a risk analysis for food quality,” identifying Critical Control Points are identified for food safety and Critical Quality Points.
Murphy at TOC agrees, noting that the BRC food standard uses the same framework as HACCP. The dessert manufacturer first certified their larger facility, in Vancouver, followed by the same at their London, Ontario facility which had opened in 2011. At each location, a cross-functional team across all business units, led by their quality assurance (QA) director, QA worked on the certification process.
G.S. Dunn spent 18 months analyzing and revising their procedures—involving hundreds of staff hours and an outside consultant hired for about 30 hours a month—prior to a SQF pre-assessment audit, says Post. Six months after that, their certification audit began with a documentation review (aka “desk audit”), followed 3 weeks later by the facility review—a walkthrough of the mustard processing plant. “We spent tens of thousands of dollars in upgrades to our facility to meet SQF specifications,” says Post, “everything from coating wood surfaces, to setting up a project for validation (time, temperature, etc.) of our steam processing machine, and much more.”
Both companies note that their enterprise resource planning (ERP) business software system played a role in expediting their certification processes. “The SQF certifying body asked directly about our software systems and processes, such as how do we manage inventory, expiration analysis, traceability,” says Post at G.S. Dunn. “It really helped that we use the food industry-specific software of JustFoodERP which has substantial functionality around food safety and quality management, hold reports, certificate of analysis, etc.”
At TOC, employees worked on the integration within shop floor reporting to capture variations and deviations on the Variation form. An event is created to track it within the company’s JustFoodERP system, says Murphy, “so we know exactly when these variations have occurred, by whom, and for which products.” An event is assigned to a supervisor and reviewed. If it requires further investigation, the company has integrated BRC’s Corrective Action Form within their ERP system. “We have a good traceability process—all the way through corrective action,” he notes.
G.S. Dunn displays their SQF certificate in their front lobby and main boardroom; “as a company that truly believes in continuous improvement, we couldn’t be more pleased about implementing a GFSI code,” says Post. That feeling is pervasive at The Original Cakerie, too. “We’re very proud of being BRC certified at both our facilities,” says Murphy.
Heather Angus-Lee writes for IndustryBuilt; JustFoodERP is an IndustryBuilt company. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.