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GFSI Scoring - The Good, the Bad, & Are We Ready For a New Scoring Method?

written by:Marko Gospojevic

Let’s start with the basics: If you are in the food manufacturing industry you should know what the letters GFSI stand for by heart. If not, I would suggest strolling by the QA/QC office and grabbing a cup of coffee with your site QA Manager. You’d might be surprised by what else you may learn.

All jokes aside, GFSI or Global Food Safety Initiative is an international benchmark for food safety. GFSI scores are used primarily for food manufacturers, retailers, and restaurant food suppliers. It is the globally recognized standard for food safety. However, that’s all it is, a standard. It is up to the GFSI recognized/licensed audit companies to implement the standard into their own food safety audits. Consider the GFSI an umbrella under which there are numerous food safety audits that differ in levels of audit requirements, and in their own levels of intensity.

Common GFSI Audits

To briefly review each audit type, let’s start with SQF, in which we encounter 3 levels of progressive audit intensity.

Level I focuses on just food safety fundamentals, while Levels II and III focus on food safety , HACCP, and the facility Quality Management System. Overall, this is a 1-2 day audit with a scoring level of G(Good), E(Excellent), C(Comply), and F(Fail). What determines your level? Well, typically that question is answered by your customer, and just how dedicated your executives are to food safety.

What do I mean by customer determining your audit level? As an example, let say your company wants to sell a certain food product to a large supermarket retailer such as Target or Wal-Mart. Before you even sell a single case of any product, those retailers require you to have passed a certain type of a GFSI audit, with a minimum score of Good to Excellent. Kind of like a minimum SAT requirement for an Ivy League University.

Then we move to BRC (British Retail Consortium) food safety audit. At the time of the writing of this blog post, BRC has undergone 7 revisions, commonly referred to as “Issues,” since its inception. Think of Harry Potter books. Just like Harry Potter books, each BRC issue builds on even more information from the previous version so that they can keep up with the times and ever-changing food safety environment. Overall, it is a 2-3 day audit, which could be announced or unannounced. The maximum score potential depends upon which audit type you choose (announced or unannounced).

If you opt for the unannounced audit, your maximum score potential will be an A+ (hats off to you if you insist on an unannounced audit). However, for the announced audit, the maximum score is AA for an audit with less than 5 minors (e.g. audit non-compliances).

Finally, we bring you to the FSSC 22000 audit. FSSC (Food Safety System Certification) 22000 is an ISO based audit that contains over 8 sections, an additional 18 sections for PAS 220, and takes 4 years from certification to recertification.

So if the BRC were the equivalent of the Harry Potter books, then ISO 22000 would be the equivalent of “The Lord of The Rings” trilogy. It is a 4-5 day hyper-intense audit, during which time you really get to bond with a complete stranger (i.e. Your Auditor), and at the end you don’t get an A, A+, or E (Excellent)…it’s a simple Pass or Fail.

Scoring Pressure

Can someone please explain to me the purpose of having scores?

I mean audit scores, specifically? Is it for bragging rights? Or is it something your client is requesting? Does your client even understand what they are asking for to begin with?

To give you an example of how pointless of a predictor audit scores really can be, let me bring you back to 2008. A company by the name of PCA (Peanut Corporation of America) was audited by both AIB and NSF (Cook and Thurber) within 30 days of each other. It achieved impressive “SUPERIOR” and “EXCELLENT” ratings from two different types of food safety audit schemes.

So what happened to PCA less than a year later with those superior scores? THEY KILLED 9 PEOPLE! Sorry for the all-caps, but it really grinds my gears to see an outdated grading system still being used as a litmus test for Food Safety.

Why, you ask?

Because although both audits show exemplary scores, nobody paid attention to the underlying deficiencies of poor quality assurance leadership, mold issues, structural issues, and obviously poor sanitation practices. Audits, by definition, are just a snapshot in time.

The GFSI auditor is in your facility for 2-5 days, and during that time do you really think he or she will understand all facility practices? I hope, for your company’s sake, and for the sake of your product, that you are not that naïve.

Some GFSI Scheme scoring is quickly becoming a relic of the previous generation of food safety professionals. The space program is still functioning today, but NASA isn’t using the same tech and engineering from the 60’s in 2016 because it would be considered inefficient and even dangerous.

Similarly, scoring methods like GFSI helped chart the course of food safety audits, but it's overdue for a major overhaul. Audits such as FSSC 22000 are leading the way in terms of scoring (i.e. Pass or Fail). By leveling the playing field, we are able to put aside the pressure of “Getting an A,” and shift the focus to making sure we are producing food safe products all year round.

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