understand the requirements. All standards
provide self-gap assessment tools to help
you focus your efforts.
If you decide to hire time, interview
consultants thoroughly to find one that
knows your business, process, product
and your chosen standard. Consultants can
work with your team, answer questions and
do a gap assessment.
The gap assessment is critical to
success because it is the road map to
guide you toward certification. Whether
conducted by an expert or done in-house,
a gap assessment tells you what is
working in your current system and what
is missing to meet the standard. Having
ISO 9001 certification or meeting another
similar standard does not mean you can
take shortcuts and immediately schedule
a certification audit. The requirements and
focus are very specific for GFSI certification.
Even if you have hired an expert, don’t
expect to just walk away. Plan to be very
involved — you will still be responsible
for your systems and implementing the
needed updates. Experts can provide you
with guidance on where to focus and what
needs to be done, but they cannot not do it
all for you.
Step 4: Manage the Project
Getting all the processes, procedures
and measurements in place to qualify for
certification is no simple task.
Study the gap assessment to identify in
detail what needs to happen next. Once you
know where the gaps are, make a timeline
and assign resources as you would for any
other large project.
The project will need a leader — a
manager or outside consultant, depending
on what resources you have. Regardless
of which, this person must be able to hold
people accountable and manage a timeline.
This is not the time to assign a “Quality
Hero” to “make it all happen.” Every part of
the organization is affected, so the project
requires work assignments for everyone on
the management team. It takes time and
concentrated effort from a fully engaged
team to fill in the gaps.
Once you implement the required
programs, you need a minimum of three
months of auditable records for the
certification audit. Collect records for a
month on new programs, review what is
working and adjust if needed.
Step 5: Choose a
When you are ready for an audit, it is
time to choose a certification body —
an accredited company that has met
the standard owner’s requirements and
maintains a “stable” of qualified auditors.
The standard owner’s website lists
qualified certification bodies, grades them
and provides contact information. Compare
services, prices, availability for your
location(s) and auditor availability, because
they do vary.
Step 6: Schedule the
Audit … Maybe
At this point, you have two choices: You
can schedule a pre-assessment — an audit
with just a list of non-conformances but no
score — or you can schedule the actual
A pre-assessment provides one last
chance to check for readiness and tie up
any loose ends. It’s important to do well
on a certification audit because corrective
action on audit findings is a requirement
for certification. The last thing you want is
a lot of findings requiring corrective action
by a deadline. If you aren’t sure how well-prepared you are, the pre-assessment is a
Step 7: Address All Findings
No one is perfect. Findings are normal
and addressing them is customary.
However, critical food safety or legality
issues will result in not being certified. This
does not happen often and, when it does, it
usually happens to facilities that don’t take
the time to understand the standard and
fully prepare for the audit. For those who
prepare well, most findings are relatively
Regardless of seriousness, any non-
compliance findings must be addressed
within a specified time limit. Although time
allowed varies slightly from standard to
standard, corrective action is required and
non-negotiable. Depending on your chosen
standard, you will have about 30 days to
complete a root cause analysis and take
corrective action for each finding. No action
equals no certificate.
The auditor will review the submitted
corrective action(s) to ensure you comply
with the standard. Depending on your audit
findings, the auditor may have to schedule
a return visit to audit the corrective action
taken to ensure compliance.
From that point, it will take some time
for the certification body to go through its
protocol before the certification process is
Step 8: Maintain the Program
Getting your certification is not a “one
and done” situation. You are audited at
least once every year to renew certification,
which means maintaining your program to
continue meeting the standard.
Keep two words in mind as you develop
your systems: simple and practical. Keeping
it simple means your systems meet the
intent of the standard. Keeping it practical
means putting systems in place that you
can maintain day in and day out.
Maintaining your certification requires
that you plan for continual improvement.
The standards don’t stay the same, and
your business changes too, so a practical
program also includes ways to improve or
change the system when needed.
Certification is a
Preparing for GFSI certification is an
on-going journey that takes planning, time
and energy. GFSI certification is intended to
benchmark the best in every industry and,
as such, it can benefit every organization
that obtains a certification.