Preparing for a
GFSI Certification Audit
By Annette Pendleton, director of food safety and regulatory compliance, WDS Inc., and Tess Burlingame,
president, Food Safety Resources LLC
Certifications recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) are virtually a requirement for doing
business in the food industry today. Almost
every aspect of the food chain now has
a specific set of standards that apply.
Whether your organization is beginning
the certification journey or considering a
different certification, these eight steps
can help you prepare for becoming GFSI-certified.
What is GFSI Certification?
GFSI is an international collaboration
of food industry experts that recognizes
several benchmarked food safety standards
worldwide. GFSI-recognized standards
are a measuring stick for Food Safety
Standards like BRC, FSSC 22000,
SQF, IFS, Primus GFS, Global Aquaculture
Alliance, Global GAP, Canada GAP and
GRMS each hold equal weight under GFSI.
Your customers are required to accept any
GFSI-recognized standard because they all
fall under the GFSI umbrella.
Once you are certified to any of these
standards, everyone will know that you
have the systems in place to produce a
safe, legal and high-quality product.
Step 1: Choose a Standard
Because there are many accepted
GFSI standards, you should choose the
standard that works best for you, based on
the products handled and the processes
conducted at your facility (agriculture, food
manufacturing, packaging manufacturing or
storage and distribution, etc.).
The website myGFSI.com is an
excellent resource to help you understand
which standards are available based on
your product and process. (Note about
terminology: What we in the U.S. call a
“standard” is referred to on the GFSI
website as a “scheme.” Don’t be confused:
Standard and scheme are synonyms.)
The GFSI website walks you through the
standards and how to choose the right one
for you. If you have key customers with a
strong preference for one standard, you
should still examine the different standards
to identify which will work for you. In the
end, which standard to apply is a business
decision, with a number of factors to
Although the various GFSI standards
have differences, they have similar basic
• Management commitment: Because
there are financial and human
resources costs to support certification,
management commitment is critical.
• Prerequisite programs as the
framework to providing a safe and
legal product: Although you may
already have food safety programs in
place, GFSI standards require you to
verify and, in some cases, validate that
each program is working effectively.
• CODEX-based HACCP plan, HARP-C,
Hazard and Risk Analysis or Food
Safety Plan: All standards have a
section on risk identification and
management. Because GFSI-approved
standards are globally accepted, the
foundation for risk management is the
science-based CODEX HACCP (Hazard
Analysis and Critical Control Points)
system, focusing on prevention rather
than on end-product testing.
• Standards for food safety and legality:
Most also cover quality.
• Systems-based audits: GFSI-based
audits look at the entire system,
• Process steps
• Inputs (like specifications and
• Outputs (finished products)
• People with competency
• Materials/equipment that are defined
• Methods (procedures)
• Measurements, such as monitoring,
verification and validation
The full-system aspect of GFSI
certification audits is one of the biggest
differences from typical customer audits
or inspections, which tend to look at a
few specific areas. Another difference is
that the certification auditors are experts
in the industry. They have to qualify to the
categories that they audit. Therefore, expect
an auditor who knows a bit about the
business and who knows the standard.
Step 2: Study the Standard
Once you decide on a standard,
purchase a copy via the standard owner’s
website and study it carefully.
The keys to knowing your standard are
interpretation and intent. If the chosen
standard offers a separate interpretational
guideline, obtain that too, as it can be
helpful to understanding the intent of the
Some standards are prescriptive,
explaining exactly what is needed in
detail. Some are less specific. Either way,
reading the standard can be scary because,
chances are, you will see a lot of work to
be done and changes to implement before
you meet all requirements.
Step 3: Get Help
Getting a facility up to standard for
certification requires significant time. There
are two choices: Make time or hire time.
If you decide to make time, get training
and use available tools. Courses are
available for each standard to help you