The produce industry is one step closer to the goal of “one audit by any credible third party acceptable to all buyers” when GlobalG.A.P. approved the use of Harmonized Standards as the basis of its checklist for U.S. Food Safety, GFSI level certification audits.
“The U.S. NTWG drafted a comparison of the GlobalG.A.P. Food Safety standards with the Harmonized Standards, found great compatibility, and submitted that comparison to GlobalG.A.P. as a proposed National Interpretation Guideline,” said Dr. David Gombas, United Fresh senior vice president of food safety & technology, who serves as coordinator of the GlobalG.A.P. National Technical Working Group (NTWG) for the U.S. “GlobalG.A.P.’s process allows countries to translate or amend parts or all of the wording of the GlobalG.A.P. standards to best suit the region by means of a National Interpretation Guideline, as long as the Guideline in no way reduces the requirements of the official standards. Last week, GlobalG.A.P. agreed that the Harmonized Standards, plus 14 audit items that are part of the GlobalG.A.P. standards but are not included in the Harmonized Standards, are equivalent to the GlobalG.A.P. Food Safety standards, and approved the National Interpretation Guideline for use in the U.S.”
A major breakthrough came last year when GlobalG.A.P. submitted food safety standards in a stand-alone GFSI-level standard format to the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) for benchmarking. The submission represented only a portion of their Integrated Farm Assurance (IFA) standards, with a focus on U.S. buyers’ food safety concerns and in an effort to minimize costs to growers. The full IFA standards, which are used in over 100 countries around the world, include audit items beyond food safety, like worker welfare and environmental stewardship.
“If we tried to match the full IFA with the Harmonized Standards, we would have had to add dozens of non-food safety audit items. While buyers outside the U.S. may still require their U.S. suppliers to have the full IFA certification, most U.S. buyers are only interested in assuring a credible assessment of suppliers’ food safety practices,” said Gombas.
“While some buyers want their suppliers to be audited by government auditors like USDA or state agencies, and others are not specific on who does the audit as long as they are credible, some buyers on the Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative Steering Committee told us very early that they would accept the Harmonized Standards as long as the standards were GFSI benchmarked,” said Gombas. “This approval by GlobalG.A.P achieves that.”
Dr. Kristian Moeller, President of GlobalG.A.P. North America said, “We applaud United Fresh and all the industry members of the GlobalG.A.P. NTWG in the U.S. to make this happen. It is another important milestone towards global harmonization. Growers now have one choice that meets both food safety expectations: those for North America and those for all other continents.”
With this approval, GlobalG.A.P. will be the sole GFSI-benchmarked standard to use the Harmonized Standards, but other audit organizations, such as USDA and NSF Agriculture, are already offering Harmonized Standards audits. “The National Interpretation Guideline will become mandatory for GlobalG.A.P. audits in the U.S. by summer, and we want to make sure the GlobalG.A.P. certification bodies are interpreting the Harmonized Standards in the same way as other audit organizations,” said Gombas. “We are going to be busy over the next several months training and calibrating auditors from multiple organizations.”
The Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative began in 2009 as an all-industry effort to reduce farm audit fatigue by harmonizing existing food safety standards from many organizations into a single checklist that can be used by any audit organization or for self-audits on any size growing operation with any fresh produce commodity. United Fresh serves as Secretariat and caretaker of the standards. The Field Operations and Harvesting Harmonized Standards were finalized in July 2010 and are freely available on the United Fresh website at www.unitedfresh.org/newsviews/gap_harmonization.