Food Safety Magazine

COVER STORY | June/July 2009

GFSI’s Role in Harmonizing Food Safety Standards

By John G. Surak, Ph.D. and Kathy L. Gombas

GFSI’s Role in Harmonizing Food Safety Standards

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) emerged in 2000 to address the need to ensure food safety in Europe. Traditionally, there have been a number of differences between the European and U.S. food retailing chains. One of the most noted differences is that, in Europe, private-label foods have consistently grown in sales. Between 1975 and 1997, for example, the average private-label product doubled in market share in European retail outlets.[1] In 2001, private-label brands consisted of 42% of the sales in Tesco and 34% of the sales in Safeway (Table 1). Market surveys estimated that private labels accounted for 40% of European retailer sales in 2005.[1]

Thus, the need arose for retailers to protect their private brands. Previously, major retailers either had internal audit standards and auditors or required specific third-party audits, usually at the supplier’s expense. While they were all trying to achieve the same goal, the production of safe food, the requirements were all different, which meant processors had to grapple with multiple auditing standards and audit types. There were simply too many variables and standards.

One food manufacturing company stated that it supplied 25 retailers, which meant it submitted to three customer corporate audits and four different third-party audits—hence, seven different standards that did not compare “apples to apples.” This particular company was also regulated by the state, which added four more audits to the mix. When the facility’s quality manager was asked by an auditor, “Do you conduct monthly inspections at your facility?” the quality manager replied, “Why do I need to do monthly inspections when I’m already audited every month by a customer or third-party auditors?” Consolidating the number of audit standards to the GFSI’s current four is a step in the right direction, provided that all retailers embrace the GFSI standards.

Development of Food Safety Standards
In 1998, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) developed and introduced the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety to be used to evaluate manufacturers of retailers’ own brand of food products. This standard is now in its fifth edition, which was published on January 4, 2008, and has been translated into 10 languages: Chinese (Simplified), Czech, Dutch, French, German, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish, Swedish and Italian. The BRC Global Standard for Food Safety has evolved into a globally accepted standard used not just to assess retailer suppliers but also as a framework upon which many companies have based their supplier assessment programs and manufacture of products. Following the success of the Global Standard – Food, the BRC published the first issue of the Packaging Standard in 2002, followed by the Consumer Products Standard in August 2003 and finally by the BRC Global Standard – Storage and Distribution in August 2006. Each standard is regularly reviewed and is fully revised and updated at least every three years after consultation with a wide range of stakeholders. These standards are available on BRC’s Web site at The major elements of the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety are provided in Supplementary Table 1.

Supplementary Table 1:
The Major Elements of BRC—Global Food Safety Standard Edition 5

Senior management commitment and continuous improvement
Food safety plan (the five preliminary steps and the seven principles of HACCP)
Food safety and quality management system
     Food safety and quality policy
     Food safety and quality manual
     Organizational structure, responsibilities and management authority
     Contract review and customer focus
     Internal audits
     Purchasing — supplier approval and performance monitoring
     General documentation requirements
     Corrective and preventative action
     Complaint handling
     Management incidents, product withdrawal and product recall
Site standards
     External standards
     Internal site standards
     Staff facilities
     Chemical and product contamination control
     Housekeeping and hygiene
     Water/waste disposal
     Pest control
     Storage and transport
Product control
     Product design/development
     Handling requirements for specific materials — materials containing allergens and identify preserved materials
     Foreign body detection
     Product packaging
     Product inspection and laboratory testing
     Control of non-conforming product
     Product release
Process control
     Control of operations
     Quality — weight, volume and number control
     Calibration and control of measuring and monitoring devices
     Access and movement of personnel
     Personal hygiene
     Medical screening
     Protective clothing
Source: BRC. 2008. Global standard for food safety, Issue 5. British Retail Consortium, London UK.

The International Food Standard (IFS) was first published in 2003 by the German Retail Union food retailers (Hauptverband des Deutschen Einzelhandels or HDE). In 2003, French retailers and wholesalers from France’s Federation of Commercial and Distribution Companies (FDC) joined the IFS Working Group and contributed to the development of the IFS standard’s fifth edition, which was published August 5, 2007. The IFS standard is available at Its major elements are described in Supplementary Table 2.

Supplemetary Table 2:
The Major Elements of IFS — International Food Standard Edition 5

Senior management responsibility
     Corporate policy/corporate principles
     Corporate structure
     Customer focus
     Management review
Quality management system
     HACCP - The five preliminary steps and the seven principles of HACCP
     HACCP system
     Assemble HACCP team
     HACCP analysis
     Documentation requirements
     Record keeping
Resource management
     Human resources management
     Human resources
          Personal hygiene
          Protective clothing for personnel, contractors and visitors
          Procedures applicable to infectious diseases
     Sanitary facilities, equipment for personnel hygiene and staff facilities
Production process
     Contract review
     Product specifications
     Product development
     Product packaging
     Factory environment standards
          Choice of location
          Plant layout and process flows
          Building and facilities
          Constructional requirements
          Walls and partition walls
          Windows and other openings
          Air conditioning (ventilation)
          (Drinking) water supply
     Housekeeping and hygiene
     Waste and waste disposal
     Risk of foreign bodies, metal, broken glass and wood
     Pest monitoring/pest control
     Receipt of goods and storage
     Maintenance and repair
     Process validation
     Traceability including GMOs and allergens
     Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
     Allergens and specific conditions or production
Measurements, analysis improvement
     Internal audits
     Site factory inspections
     Process control
     Calibration and checking of measuring and monitoring devices
     Quantity checking(quantity control/filling quantities)
     Product analysis
     Product quarantine and product release
     Management of complaints from authorities and customers
     Management of incidents, product withdrawal, product recall
     Management of non-conforming products
     Corrective actions
Source: IFS. 2007. International food standard – Standard for auditing retailer and wholesaler branded food products version 5. HDE Trade Services GmbH, Berlin, Germany.

The Safe Quality Food (SQF) 2000 Code provides a food safety and quality management certification program that is tailored to the needs of the food processor. The code was developed in Australia in 1994, and pilot programs were implemented to ensure its applicability to the food industry. It was prepared with the assistance of experts in quality management, food safety, food regulation, food processing, agriculture production systems, food retailing, food distribution and the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) guidelines. The Food Marketing Institute acquired the rights to the SQF program in August 2003 and has established the SQF Institute (SQFI) division to manage the program. The SQF 2000 Code Level 2 is recognized by the GFSI as a standard that meets its benchmark requirements. The SQF 2000 Code has evolved with time and the sixth edition, published in August 2008, is posted on the SQFI Web site at The SQF 2000 Code is available in both English and Spanish; its major elements are described at Supplementary Table 3.

Table 3:
The Major Elements of SQF 2000 Code — A HACCP-based Supplier Assurance Code for the Food Industry Edition 6

SQF 2000 system requirements
          Management policy
          Management responsibility
          Food safety and quality management system
          Management review
          Complaint management
          Business continuity planning
     Documentation control and records
          Documentation control
     Specifications and product development
          Product development and realization
          Raw materials
          Contract service providers
          Contract manufacturers
          Finished product
     Attaining food safety
          Food legislation (regulations)
          Food safety fundamentals
          Food safety plan
          Food quality plan
          Incoming goods and services
          Corrective and preventative action
          Non-conforming product or equipment
          Product rework
          Product release
          Stock rotation
          Responsibility, frequency and methods
          Verification of monitoring activities
          Product sampling, inspection and analysis
          Internal audits
          Verification schedule
     Product identification, trace, withdrawal and recall
          Product identification
          Product trace
          Product withdrawal and recall
     Site security
          Food defense
     Identity-preserved foods
          General requirements

Food safety fundamentals — building and equipment design and construction
     Site requirements and approval
          Premise location
          Construction and operational approval
     Food handling areas
          Materials and surfaces
          Floors, drains, and waste traps
          Walls, partitions, doors and ceilings
          Stairs, catwalks and platforms
          Lighting and light fittings
     Inspection area
     Dust-, fly- and vermin-proofing
     Equipment, utensils, and protective clothing
     Cleaning of equipment, utensils and protective clothing
     Hand-washing facilities
     Protective clothing racks
     Water and ice supply
          Water supply
          Water delivery
          Ice supply
          Water treatment
     Storage facilities
          Cold storage, freezing, and chilling of foods
          Storage and dry ingredient storage and shelf-stable packaged goods
          Storage and packaging
          Storage of equipment and receptacles
          Storage of hazardous chemicals and toxic substances
          Alternative storage and handling of goods
     Separation of functions
          Process flow
          Receipt of raw materials
          Thawing of product
          High-risk processes
          Other processes
     On site laboratories
     Staff amenities
          Change rooms
          Sanitary facilities
          Lunch rooms
     First aid facilities
          Access to first aid
     Waste disposal
          Dry and liquid waste disposal
          Grounds and roadways
Food safety fundamentals â? prerequisite programs
     Personnel practices
          Clothing jewelry and personal effects
     Personnel processing practices
          Staff engaged in food handling and processing operations
     Training of personnel
          Training requirements
          Training program
          HACCP training requirements
          Refresher training
          Training skills register
     Calibration of equipment
          Calibration methods
          Calibration standards
          Calibration schedule
     Management of pests and vermin
          Pest and vermin control program
          Using pest-control chemicals
          Pest-control contractors
          Disposal of unused pest-control chemicals
     Premises and equipment maintenance
          Maintenance program
          Instruction to maintenance personnel and contractors
          Maintenance schedule
          Equipment lubrication and paints
     Cleaning and sanitation
          Cleaning and sanitation program
          Evaluating the effectiveness of cleaning
          Purchasing storage and use of detergents and sanitizers
          Disposal of unused detergents and sanitizers
     Monitoring water microbiology and quality
          Water Treatment
     Control of physical contamination
          Foreign material
          Detection of foreign objects
          Managing foreign matter contamination incidents
     Supplier approval
          Selecting approved suppliers
          Approved supplier program
          Monitoring approved suppliers
     Transport and delivery
          Transport, loading, and unloading practices
     Waste management and disposal
          Dry, wet and liquid waste
          Removal from food handling and processing areas
          Maintaining waste removal equipment and areas
          Monitoring waste removal
     Allergen control
          Allergen control program
          Risk analysis
          Receiving and storage raw materials
          Storing product containing allergy-causing agents
          Sanitation of processing area and equipment
          Batch identification and trace
          Re-working product containing allergy-causing agents

Requirements for food contained in hermetically sealed rigid, flexible or semi-rigid containers
     Canning operations
          Canning equipment
          Establishing the scheduled process
          Thermal processing
          Seam and seal integrity
          Quality assurance


The SQF 1000 Code provides a food safety and quality management certification program for the primary producer. A draft of that code’s fifth edition was available for comment by May 1, 2009. On February 4, 2009, GLOBALGAP and SQFI announced that the SQF 1000 standard will be benchmarked to the GLOBALGAP standard. Benchmarking by GLOBALGAP means that SQF will be able to offer produce growers a food safety certification that is recognized by both GFSI and GLOBALGAP. As a result, a primary producer will be able to receive both SQF and GLOBALGAP certification at the same time in a single audit. The SQF Codes are reviewed every three years by the SQFI Technical Advisory Council.

In 2004, the Foundation of Food Safety Systems (SCV) was founded by the National Board of Experts in the Netherlands. The SCV maintains the Dutch certification scheme for a standard that is known as Dutch HACCP. For all practical purposes, Dutch HACCP has not emerged as a major player in the U.S. market, so this standard’s major elements are not described here. However, the standard is available at

These private entities began to develop food safety standards for certification, bringing increased costs to European food retailers since a food processor may have sold product to several retailers, each wanting products to be certified to a different standard.

ISO 22000: Bringing Harmony to the Standards
In 2001, Danish Standards requested that ISO undertake the development of an international food safety management standard. By this time, there were not only a large number of private standards, but a number of countries—including Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Australia and the United States—also had their own national food safety standards. Thus, the ISO sought to harmonize and publish an international food safety standard. In 2005, the ISO working group accomplished its objective and published ISO 22000.

ISO standards are developed using a transparent process that is designed to encourage input from all of the standard’s stakeholders. This is done by having both a national Technical Advisory Group (TAG) and an international standards working group. Sometimes a TAG is called a Mirror Group. The TAG is open to all professionals with the appropriate credentials who want to contribute to the standards development or review process. At the national level, each TAG develops a consensus position that is taken to the international committee by the national delegation.

ISO 22000 has a structure similar to ISO 9001:2000 and other ISO management system standards, such as ISO 9001 (quality management), ISO 14001 (environmental management) and OHSAS 18001 (occupational health and safety management). This allows the development of multiple management systems using a similar structure, and the potential sharing of general management system procedures.

ISO 22000 made several significant contributions to the understanding of food safety management systems. First, it strengthened the need for food safety communications both internally and externally. Second, it introduced requirements such as emergency preparedness and formal updating of the food safety management system. Third, ISO 22000 was the first standard to separate validation from verification. This brought the standard in alignment with the draft version (and eventually, the final version) of the Codex standard.[2] Finally, the requirements were defined within the context of a system. Figure 1 shows one example of how the food safety management system is connected. The standard provides numerous examples of how the elements link together to form the food safety management system. The major elements of ISO 22000 are described in Supplementary Table 4.

The Major Elements of ISO 22000:2005 —Food Safety Management Systems — Requirements for Any Organization in the Food Chain

Food safety management system
          General requirements
          Documentation requirements
Management responsibility
     Management commitment
     Food safety policy
     Food safety management system planning
     Responsibility and authority
     Food safety team leader
     Emergency preparedness and response
Categories: Regulatory: Audits/Certification/GFSI, International Standards/Harmonization