– Opinion –

By Erica Sheward
Director, Global Food Safety Initiative at The Consumer Goods Forum

At the heart of equitable and sustainable food systems is food safety. Everyone has the right to access safe and nutritious food yet an estimated 600 million people each year fall ill after eating contaminated food, and foodborne diseases affect people of all ages. Concerns over food safety have also been exacerbated by the pandemic. At the heart of ensuring food safety are food safety auditors. 

Many of my peers in the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) community have reported concerning signs that the profession of food safety auditing suffers from a lack of attractiveness and recognition. We’re seeing this manifest in an increase in the average age of employed auditors, and an increase in people leaving the profession, exacerbated by the pandemic. If nothing is done, there will simply not be enough auditors to carry out all the required food safety audits. 

As a collective, we have an opportunity to raise the professional status and recognition of food safety auditors and facilitate the development of a distinct profession of food safety auditing to create a career path with the same esteem as other auditing professions such as financial auditing. 

At GFSI, a coalition of action of The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), which brings together key drivers in the industry from retailers to manufacturers, a key priority is our Food Safety Auditor Competence and Professional Development program. Following an open consultation to the industry, we have launched the first-ever set of GFSI Benchmarking Requirements for food safety auditor Professional Recognition Bodies. 

The current qualifications and industry experience required for a food safety auditing career are very specific which narrows the field of potential recruits dramatically. The profession also provides little recognition for specific expertise, or experience, creating a lack of a clear sense of progression and opportunity. By establishing GFSI-recognised Professional Recognition Bodies in the food safety ecosystem, we are working change the focus of auditor qualification, to place more emphasis on verifying competence and relevant experience and expertise, create harmony in qualifications across the entire GFSI ecosystem, and provide more support for auditors to develop their competencies and career.  This in turn will broaden entry to the profession of food safety auditing without compromising on competence, and make food safety auditing a rewarding profession.

This work forms part of the larger GFSI Race to the Top (RTTT) Framework which works to improve trust, transparency and confidence in GFSI-recognised certification and audit outcomes. 

A crucial part of achieving our aims to raise the profession of Food Safety Auditors will be the support and collaboration of the whole food industry and supply chains. Our new steering committee that sit at the helm of GFSI bring this to life. They are working on a pre-competitive basis to collaborate on collective concerns. They do so with a shared agreement that food safety is not a competitive issue and that no company or country can do it alone. Alongside this, we need the support and involvement of professional recognition bodies, certification bodies, certification programme owners and auditing bodies as well as the auditors themselves to ensure the most holistic solution to boosting entry into the profession and supporting retention. 

We are calling for all those with interest in the food safety industry to help us build awareness of the vital role of food auditors. Specifically we are asking for interested entities to apply to become a GFSI-recognised PRB, CBs and CPOs to take part in our pilot, set as part of our transition period, and for anybody concerned by the future of food safety auditors to take part in our public consultation on transitional arrangements.

By working together we can raise the profile of the profession of food safety auditing, attract and retain great talent in that profession, and ensure more people have access to safe food.

About GFSI: The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI; the Coalition) is a Coalition of Action from The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), bringing together 37 retailers and manufacturers from across the CGF membership and an extended food safety community to oversee food safety standards for businesses and help provide access to safe food for people everywhere. It’s member groups include the International Association for Food Protection, which is a member-based association of more than 4,400 food safety professionals committed to Advancing Food Safety Worldwide by providing food safety professionals worldwide with a forum to exchange information on protecting the food supply. 

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