What Food Manufacturers and Importers Need to Know
The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) provides thought leadership and guidance on food safety management systems and is accomplished through collaboration between the world’s leading food safety experts from international organizations, manufacturing and food service companies, retail, governments and service providers to the global food industry.
The GFSI provides a benchmarking model to define the process by which food safety schemes may gain recognition by GFSI. The benchmarking requirements list the key elements to produce safe food, feed or packaging. A safer global supply chain, improved product integrity and cost efficiency through reduced failures are some of the benefits stakeholders across all sectors achieve using GFSI standards.
BRC Global Standards, SQF Institute and International Featured Standards are just three schemes recognized by the GFSI. Many food manufacturers seek to achieve certification from a certification body that is recognized by one of these schemes to fulfill their legal obligations and provide safe food products for consumers. These certification bodies need to gain accreditation in order to carry out audits against recognized schemes, which is essential as it introduces independent verification of the certification bodies against international standards.
Third-Party certification does not guarantee food safety
In recent years, third party food safety audits have come under critical scrutiny from the media majority. Sites with reportedly excellent ratings by independent auditors have been linked to occurrences associated with serious illness or death and have been consequently closed down by regulators.
According to recent data for Disease Control and Prevention, every year about 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick from foodborne diseases. This health burden is largely preventable and explains why the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was developed; to ensure the safety and security of the U.S. food supply. The Act focuses on the need to prevent food safety problems, not merely react once they happen.
FDA rules to implement FSMA
Since January 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed seven foundational rules to implement the FSMA. The third final rule was the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) which requires importers to perform certain risk-based activities to verify that food imported into the United States has been produced in a manner that meets U.S. safety standards and is not adulterated or misbranded with respect to allergen labelling. For more information on this and how it affects global importers to the USA read our blog, ‘FSVP – What Does it really Mean?’.
The goal is to prevent harmful food from reaching U.S. consumers
The sixth final rule was for Accredited Third-Party Certification, which was issued on November 13, 2015. Ultimately, this rule establishes the framework and requirements for accreditation bodies seeking recognition by the FDA, as well as requirements for auditors seeking accreditation, resulting in the prevention of potentially-harmful food from reaching U.S. consumers. Certification for accreditation will be required to participate in the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP), which will allow importers in the program to receive an expedited food review and quicker entry into the U.S. Certification bodies will be required to submit their audit reports to the FDA if a facility is being examined, for certification, to be in compliance with FDA food safety requirements. For audits of a consultative nature, the FDA only needs to be notified if a potential serious risk to public health is identified.
Recognition for an accreditation body can last for a period of up to five years, but will depend on many factors and will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Maximum duration of accreditation for certification bodies is four years.
Impact for food manufacturers and importers
The accredited third-party certification rule will provide reassurance to food manufacturers who seek out certification bodies or third party auditors by ensuring the companies are regulated by the FDA, meet international standards and are competent. These standards must be inline with the FD&C Act for importers and exporters, and fall under regulatory audits which refer to protection against and testing for rapid adulteration of food.
What does this all mean in layman’s terms? In order for global food manufacturers and importers to build better business relations with the United States they need to be able to have statistical data that shows that their products are in fact ‘safe’ for consumers; safe and free of pathogens and contaminants. Although x-ray inspection equipment cannot detect pathogens it can locate hard to find physical contaminants such as metal, glass, plastic and stone. X-ray inspection machines are also designed to sanitary standards which helps lessen the potential growth of bacteria in small crevasses.
Furthermore, data collection software allows for greater documentation of production line data to be readily available and with image analysis technology, easily locates contaminants within the production line in real-time. This sort of technology makes it easier for auditors to find the information they need, which in turn, makes it easier to certify manufacturers and importers seeking new business channels. For more information regarding expanding your business to international markets or major retailers read our blog, ‘Business Drivers for X-ray Inspection – Part:1 Global Expansion and Major Retailer Suppliers.’