It is not only the food
safety audit, but how that audit is done that retailers are increasingly
interested in, food safety experts said.
Just as Brampton,
Ontario-based Loblaw Cos. Ltd. recently asked its Canadian suppliers to
become CanadaGAP-certified, some U.S. retailers over the past 18 months
have begun to ask their suppliers to become compliant with audits that
are globally benchmarked, according to Bob Whitaker, science officer for
the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.
He said retailers have
been focused mainly on the Global Food Safety Initiative but also
GlobalGAP and GFSI
announced in February the two groups were beginning a process to align
the two benchmarking criteria to provide equivalent results.
"The trend toward
complete standards that define not only the content but also the process
for how the audit will be conducted is very real," Whitaker said. "I
think you will see more and more of that happening as time goes on."
The focus is not only
standardizing the processing but also in reducing duplicative audits and
unnecessary cost in the food chain.
Whitaker said the
number of audits a supplier must undergo depends on the crop produced and
the size of the operation. Facility audits may run six to eight per year
for a typical operation, and farm level audits may run two to three per
"The food chain is
getting a multitude of inspections," said Roy Costa, food safety
consultant with Environ Health Associates Inc., DeLand, Fla.
"You have some
people getting 12 or more private entities coming in a year under
different standards and it has become very burdensome for a lot of
folks," he said.
"A lot of these
companies have to maintain in-house staff just to deal with the
Wal-Mart, Price Chopper
and Kroger Co. are among U.S. retailers who have asked suppliers to be
certified by a Global Food Safety Initiative benchmark audit, said Bill
Greer, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Food Marketing Institute.
"The attraction is
that it is not just the audit that is part of the food safety standard,
but that it is a complete food safety system," Whitaker said.
The GFSI looks at the
training of auditors and the protocols for how an auditor is supposed to
behave when they do an audit, he said.
"You can see why
that program has an appeal because it gives a sense of security to the
buying side that at least a procedure is being followed."
David Gombas, senior
vice president for food safety and technology for United Fresh Produce
Association, Washington, D.C., said is not aware of any North American
retailer strictly enforcing a certification requirement yet.
In February 2008, Wal-Mart
said its suppliers will be required to complete full certification by
GFIS this year.
For producers, SQF 1000
and GlobalGAP are the only two audits that are GFSI benchmarked, Gombas
Whitaker said more
third-party audit companies will receive recognition from GFSI and
third-party certifiers who can get recognition for their programs, the
better off the industry is going to be," he said.
Gombas said only four
audit programs have been recognized by GFSI. Three have been based in
Europe, and SQF is based in Arlington, Va.