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The Global Food Safety Initiative is a business driven initiative for the continuous improvement of food safety management systems to ensure confidence in the delivery of safe food to consumers worldwide. GFSI provides a platform for collaboration between some of the world’s leading food safety experts from retailer, manufacturer and food service companies, service providers associated with the food supply chain, international organizations, academia and government.
The initiative was launched in 2000 following a number of food safety crises when consumer confidence was at an all-time low. Since then, experts from all over the world have been collaborating in numerous Technical Working Groups to tackle current food safety issues defined by GFSI stakeholders.
Key activities within GFSI include the definition of food safety requirements for food safety schemes through a benchmarking process. This process leads to recognition of existing food safety schemes and drives growing confidence, acceptance and implementation of third party certification along the entire food supply chain.
GFSI’s current focus is on extending the requirements to cover all scopes of the global food supply chain from farm to fork. Other important current activities include the development of a capacity building programme for small and/or less developed businesses to facilitate their access to local markets and a continuous focus on food safety auditor competence to bring industry experts in collaboration with key stakeholders to a common consensus on the skills, knowledge and attributes that a competent auditor should possess.
Back in 2000, food safety was a top of mind issue for companies due to several high-profile recalls, quarantines and negative publicity about the food industry. There was also extensive audit fatigue through the industry, as retailers performed inspections or audits themselves or asked a third party to do this on their behalf. These were often carried out against food safety schemes that lacked international certification and accreditation, resulting in incomparable auditing results.
CEOs of global companies came together at The Consumer Goods Forum (CIES at the time) and agreed that consumer trust needed to be strengthened and maintained through a safer supply chain. GFSI was created to achieve this through the harmonisation of food safety standards that would drive reduce audit duplication throughout the supply chain. At the time, there was no existing scheme that could be qualified as “global” that could be adopted by all. GFSI therefore chose to go down the route of benchmarking, developing a model that determines equivalency between existing food safety schemes, whilst leaving flexibility and choice in the marketplace.
Benchmarking and the GFSI Guidance Document
This benchmarking model is based on the GFSI Guidance Document, a multi-stakeholder document that was drafted with input from food safety experts from all over the world, and defines the process by which food safety schemes may gain recognition by GFSI and gives guidance to these schemes. GFSI drives continuous improvement through the Guidance Document, which is updated on a regular basis with global industry input to ensure that the requirements for food safety management schemes are robust. GFSI does not undertake any certification or accreditation activities.
The GFSI Vision is: "Safe food for consumers everywhere". By drawing on the expertise of its international stakeholders working in various sectors, GFSI is able to have a truly global approach when tackling food safety issues.
The GFSI Mission is: Since it was launched in May 2000 following a number of major food safety scares, the GFSI has aimed to: “Provide continuous improvement in food safety management systems to ensure confidence in the delivery of safe food to consumers worldwide”
The GFSI objectives are to:
GFSI has recognized a number of food safety management schemes that fulfill the criteria of the GFSI Guidance Document. The GFSI Guidance Document is regularly revised by GFSI to reflect improvements in best practices. GFSI is not a scheme in itself and does not carry out any accreditation or certification activities. The status of recognition is achieved through a comprehensive benchmarking process. Once a standard has gained formal recognition by the GFSI Board of Directors, this standard is deemed to meet all of the requirements in the Guidance Document. Certification according to a GFSI recognized scheme can be achieved through a successful third party audit  against any of the following schemes recognized by the GFSI:
A study by the University of Arkansas showed that food companies having achieved certification had a well documented food safety management system, perceived improved product safety and had well trained employees.
Under the umbrella of GFSI, eight major retailers (Carrefour, Tesco, ICA, Metro, Migros, Ahold, Wal-Mart and Delhaize) came to a common acceptance of the GFSI benchmarked food safety schemes in June 2007.