Focus on auditors, certificate fraud and science at the GFSI conference

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Auditor competence, certificate fraud and support for small food businesses were some of the main topics discussed at the recent GFSI conference.

The GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) conference in Spain brought together 600 registrants from 50 countries.

In late 2021, the GFSI created a set of benchmarking requirements for Food Safety Auditor Recognition Bodies (PRBs) who will register auditors. The aim is to support food safety auditor skill enhancement and continuous professional development. Certification Program Owners (CPOs) and certification bodies can use registration with a GFSI-recognized PRB as proof of an auditor’s competence.

A pilot program has been launched with Exemplar Global, which has applied to be a GFSI recognized PRB, and CPOs including FSSC 22000, BRC Global and SQFI will test the new model, which is expected to be in place by 2023 and 2024. By 2024, 8,000 auditors could be registered with a GFSI recognized PRB.

Marie-Claude Quentin of GFSI said auditor competence has been a problem for many years and various solutions are trying to address it.

“The process was too complex and it was driving good people away from the profession. Now we make it simple regardless of audit standard. It will replace the checks people are subject to today and includes ongoing monitoring and support. Introducing continuous professional development will attract talent and create better audits,” she said.

Attendees learned that auditors are on the front line of food safety verification, with panelists saying demand for their services is on the rise, compounded by many leaving or retiring from the industry. The current situation risks causing a shortage that could have an impact on food security.

Example of certificate fraud
Another session of the conference covered the problem of trust in the GFSI mark, in particular certificate fraud, and included an example given by a Spanish saffron company.

Participants discuss issues during the certificate fraud session. Photo courtesy of GFSI

Erica Sheward, director of GFSI, said an assessment of the issue revealed that many companies were trying to use the group’s brand.

“We were overwhelmed with misrepresentations and had to ask them to stop doing things associated with the GFSI,” she said. “We have now turned our attention to members of our community. You can’t ask people to trust us and not deal with this stuff. The GFSI logo or name does not appear on a certificate. »

In the Spanish case, which included law enforcement agencies, Sheward said the certifying body did not in fact exist, but appeared to be in Germany and those behind it did not exist. were not in the country from which they appeared to come.

Sandra Sirera of Verdú Cantó Saffron said the incident prompted them to ask GFSI for a way to verify the certificates to verify if they are real or not. In 2021, GFSI called on Webnet to develop a platform for organizations certified under a program recognized by GFSI.

David Lovell of DSL Consulting said work had been carried out over the past 18 months to examine the extent of the problem.

They found cases of domain registration – where companies buy names with GFSI in the address, social media and web content violations, problems in online marketplaces such as Amazon and Alibaba, and mobile applications with the GFSI logo or name attached.

“The problem and the resources you need to deal with it increase as the brand grows. Other organizations fall victim to this abuse, such as regulators and certification program owners. We have seen training providers say they partner with GFSI but this is not the case. GFSI has a different relationship with online markets than regulators because they are our members, we can talk to CEOs and senior executives and we both want the same thing, we don’t want abuse of logos or poor quality products,” Lovell said.

The GFSI’s COVID-19 position, in March 2022, was to allow the certificate to be extended, based on a risk assessment, for up to six months when pandemic-related travel restrictions prevent an audit. In 2020 and 2021, almost all certificates issued under a GFSI-recognized program were granted an extension.

The Global Markets program, which is currently being redesigned, provides a pathway to certification for small food businesses.

A consultation on this recently closed with Anne Gerardi of GFSI telling participants that over 70 submissions had been received and that workshops with regulators had taken place at the annual government to business meetings. Gerardi said work on the new capacity building framework will take a few more months. It will then be piloted for six months and the impact will be measured.

The Science and Technology Advisory Group discussed an upcoming report. Photo courtesy of GFSI

Focus on science and technology
David Crean, chair of the GFSI Science and Technology Advisory Group, launched in July 2021, said a report would soon be available covering five areas, including emerging foodborne pathogens and big data in safety. eating.

Francisco Diaz-Gonzalez, University of Georgia, highlighted some of the most pressing issues, including antimicrobial resistant organisms, E. coli O104:H4, and parasites such as Cyclospora and cryptosporidium.

Big data has begun to revolutionize some areas of food safety, and metagenomics is another tool that has potential, said Jeff Farber of the University of Guelph.

“Most regulatory agencies use WGS to type pathogens from clinical and food samples. This leads to faster food recalls, stopping outbreaks, and focusing resources on the problems. WGS tools cannot ignore epidemiology and traceability investigations, this goes hand in hand and will always be necessary in investigations. In food, we tend to be conservative and behind the medical sector,” he said.

“There will be downsides. Even with WGS, many companies are reluctant to share isolate data because they don’t trust regulators. Change will come, but it’s a step-by-step process. There is a big push to standardize techniques.

“In terms of traceability, blockchain to trace food products back to source is starting to be used more frequently and risk-based inspection models are using all the data you can get to focus resources. Machine learning on risk-based inspection data can help focus on which foods to focus on. Predictive models and analytics are another area, as is the use of social media for early warning and mitigation of foodborne outbreaks.

“The use of big data does not always lead to immediate improvements. A mid-sized business needs to know when and where it makes sense to use big data and have mechanisms in place to make decisions based on the results of data analysis. »

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