Determining the type of food safety certification your operation needs, or if you even need one, can be confusing and overwhelming when you are new to the process. Where do you start? Begin with your customers!
If you sell directly to consumers, such as fresh-from-the-farm or at farmer’s markets, then your customers likely know you and feel that they have a sense of how you conduct your operation. You have probably already established a trust with your customers and do not need a third-party food safety audit unless you feel that its marketing value justifies the additional expense.
But if you sell to a wholesaler or retailer or other food distributor, they probably have specific requirements about the type of food safety certification they require suppliers to maintain. They may just have the basic requirement of any third-party audit and certification. They may require a specific “scheme” such as GLOBALG.A.P., Primus, SQF, etc.. They may not dictate the certification scheme but require that you hold a Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)-benchmarked third-party certification. This means that the type of audit and certification you choose must be GFSI-benchmarked and meet the internationally agreed upon GFSI requirements. There are several options that meet this requirement. This chart lists the most popular types of third-party audits, as well as indicating which types have a GFSI version.
In order to be able to sell your products to the major grocery retailers you would need to meet their specific requirements, listed below:
Now that you know what type of certification you need, you are probably wondering where to start the process to get this certification. Do an online search for CBs offering the type of certification you have decided upon. CBs are Certifying Bodies- these companies are licensed by the audit scheme to perform the audits and make the certification decisions. Make a list of a few that offer what you need (they don’t necessarily need to be local since most CBs have auditors for each section of the country, but you do want to choose one headquartered in your main country of operation) and reach out to them. You will quickly get a sense of which CBs will be easy to work with and have experience with your type of operation.
The CB you select should be able to answer your questions to the point where you are comfortable signing a contract for their services, which will be required before the process can proceed. The application you submit to a CB may seem a bit overwhelming the first time, but the CB can help you with any questions. They are trying to get as clear of picture of your operation as they can to ensure that the food safety certification is appropriate for your operation.
Once the application and paperwork is behind you, the CB will send an auditor to your operation to observe your primary agricultural activities. Don’t worry– a good CB will work with you to make sure this happens at a time that is both reasonable and convenient for you. If the auditor finds any issues, called non-conformances, you will have a chance to take measures to address/correct them immediately following the audit. Once that is done, the CB will review your entire file and issue certification or not. (Of course, there are appeal processes in place should you disagree with their decision.)
Your certification will be valid for up to one year, so you will need to go through the process again before that certification expires, but by then you’ll feel like an expert and won’t even break a sweat!
Karl is the founder and President of the High Sierra Group companies, which services more than 10,000 customers with Ceres Certifications, International (ISO 17065 food safety certifying body), HSG/AME Certified Laboratories (17025 food testing laboratories), Ceres University (Accredited, degree granting), High Sierra Chemicals and Epicure Farms.
Kellie Worrell has an extensive background in Agriculture and Food Safety. She has written several accurate ag children’s books, including the Virginia Ag In the Classroom Book of the Year. She has served as Food Safety Officer for farms with a wide variety of fresh vegetables, and is currently the GLOBALG.A.P. Scheme Administrator at Ceres Certifications, International.
Ceres Certifications, International (CCI) has been serving the produce industry since 2021. CCI offers a wide variety of 3rd party food safety certifications, including both GFSI-benchmarked standards and more basic audits. Connect with its experienced Scheme Managers to discuss the extensive CCI offerings, including GLOBALG.A.P. IFA, HPSS, PHA, localg.a.p., a variety of GG add-ons, PrimusGFS, PrimusStandard, SQF, and more. Learn more.