For food and beverage businesses like yours, industry certifications pose a number of questions. Which are the most crucial for an organization to have? What is the process for obtaining them? What do all these acronyms mean?
We’ll answer all of the above and more here, but first we should address the most fundamental question surrounding certifications: Why do they exist?
While the answer varies to some degree depending upon the certification, at the heart of each is protection and assurance. That might be protection of your employees on the factory floor, assurance of safe products or peace of mind for customers.
The bottom line, though, is that a certification conveys a sense of trust—trust that the company will do right by its people, trust that a product is really what the package claims it to be, and trust that the measures a company implements to comply with regulations and standards are made in good faith.
In the U.S., the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 (FSMA) was groundbreaking in terms of its applicability to all food and beverage sectors and the accountability that it forced businesses to embrace. Thus, while FSMA did not create a new certification and does not award any of the following, it is this piece of legislation that encourages most American food and beverage organizations to seek out these designations and maintain their compliance.
With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the most common and important certifications in the food and beverage industry.
Originally a collaborative project of the Pillsbury Company, NASA and the U.S. Army Laboratories to provide safe food for space expeditions, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) certification is now maintained jointly by the United States’ Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Put simply, it’s a comprehensive and systematic approach to hazard prevention in the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries.
One of the very first certifications of its kind, HACCP brings with it increased credibility, reduced risk of unsafe products entering the marketplace and a commitment to proactive food safety. It also aligns with FSMA standards, as well as those of ISO 22000 and GFSI for product validation, supplier programs, foreign matter controls, allergen management and training.
All in all, HACCP is a crucial certification for any food and beverage organization, and it can be obtained from any of a host of certifying organizations with the authority to conduct the necessary audit and grant it.
The Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI)—a division of FMI, the Food Industry Association—administers the Safe Quality Food (SQF) certification. It serves to showcase a food and beverage organization’s commitment to a culture of food safety and operational excellence.
The major provisions of SQF include assurances that a business’s Quality Management System (QMS) conforms to global food safety regulations and that good agricultural practices (GAPs) and good manufacturing principles (GMPs) are being followed. It is especially important for food and beverage companies operating in the U.S., as many organizations require that their suppliers bear this badge, and it entails the vast majority of the provisions laid out by FSMA.
The SQFI, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, is the sole administrator of the SQF certification.
Originally developed by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the BRC Global Standards are now maintained by their own company known simply as BRCGS. This certification is well-regarded in more than 130 countries, and the standards ensure quality, safety and transparency to protect end consumers.
BRCGS can be further divided into categories of food safety, storage and distribution, packaging materials and agents and brokers. The benefits of the certification include international recognition, reduced risk of withdrawal and recall, better brand loyalty and image and a systematic approach to quality and safety.
Various certifying bodies can grant this certification via an audit process, which is essential for companies doing business globally and also excellent for U.S. food and beverage organizations that want to ensure compliance with FSMA regulations.
This certification, developed in 2005 by the International Organization of Standardization (ISO), is for all food and beverage organizations, including those that deal primarily with equipment, packaging, cleaning agents, additives and ingredients all along the supply chain. It combines a management system with best practices in food safety and essentially ensures that a business can meet or exceed global food safety regulations, thus empowering an organization to expand into new markets should the opportunity arise.
A business bearing the ISO 22000 certification can be expected to have excellent documentation, an optimized plan for resources and clear communication both externally and internally. It will also have adequate or better traceability, so stakeholders can be confident that their products are safe.
As one of the most recognized certifications in the industry, this is a respected differentiator for food and beverage companies of all types. More than 30,000 ISO 22000 certificates are currently active, and they can be obtained from a number of organizations that conduct the audit process for a fee.
The Foundation Food Safety System Certification 22000 (FSSC 22000) actually entails ISO 22000’s requirements for food safety, management and communication, meaning that any business achieving FSSC 22000 certification is also in compliance with ISO 22000 standards. However, this certification also involves sector-specific Pre-Requisite Programs (PRPs), as well as additional standards for consistency and integrity.
The goal of FSSC 22000 is to define the risks and hazards that are present in the manufacture of food and beverages and then evaluate and control them. It once again can apply to any food and beverage organization from anywhere along the supply chain, and it is also recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).
Companies with this certification will benefit from improved communication, reduced costs due to withdrawals and recalls, a better reputation and increased brand loyalty. FSSC 22000 is among the most popular and well-regarded certifications with more than 20,000 active certificates, and it also can be granted by any of several companies that will conduct the audit process for a fee.
Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certification was created by the FDA as a way to identify manufacturers that ensure product quality by establishing clear procedures, documenting them and thoroughly training operators on them. The core of GMP is focused on optimizing results while minimizing risks involved in the production, processing and packaging of food, beverages, drugs and medical devices.
GMP regulations address a number of areas, including record keeping, personnel qualifications, sanitation, equipment verification, complaint handling and more. There is some flexibility in how these standards are applied to allow for the unique circumstances of different food and beverage businesses, and like HACCP, the certification is designed to align with GFSI standards.
This certification is occasionally referred to as cGMP, with the “c” standing for “current,” but no matter what form it appears in, GMP stands for excellent safety practices and products that are reliably safe for consumption. As is the case for the prior three certifications discussed, this one can also be obtained from a number of businesses that have the authority to conduct an audit and ensure that a food manufacturer adheres to the necessary standards.
Consumer tastes are shifting toward more sustainably sourced and produced goods, as well as those food and beverage products that are healthier. Some of the certifications surrounding these qualities are more concrete than others, as a general consensus for how they are defined has yet to be reached in some circumstances.
Many customers are looking for food and beverage products manufactured without genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and the most popular seals are those from the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), A Greener World (AGW) and the USDA. Plant-based foods and beverages are also in demand, and certifications from NSF, the American Fitness Professionals & Associates (AFPA) and eCornell are among the most well-known.
Likewise, the categories of vegan and gluten-free products also have several different certifications from various bodies. For vegan products, Vegan Action, BeVeg and Natural Food Certifiers’ badges are among the most sought-after, and for gluten-free products, both BRCGS and NSF, as well as the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) offer popular certifications.
Yet another certification that continues to gain popularity is organic products, which are produced without synthetic chemical inputs and genetically modified seeds and involve livestock fed and cared for via specific methods. The USDA provides the most well-regarded organic certification for products and ensures that those organizations manufacturing them maintain strict physical separation of these goods from non-organic products.
Finally, several other niche categories of products, including lactose-free and those free of specific allergens, do not yet have regulated systems by which goods are labeled. However, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act does require that milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat—which account for 90% of all food-allergic reactions—are declared on product packaging either in the ingredient list or as a parenthetical addendum to it.
Depending on the age of your food and beverage business, your organization may already have a number of these certifications, or you might just be starting out and determining which you really need. Some, such as HACCP, are absolutely vital to compete in the marketplace and gain recognition, while others may or may not suit your product lines and goals for the future.
Your leadership team should conduct further research into these certifications and the bodies that govern them to determine your path forward. Without a doubt, they lend legitimacy to your products and engender that all-important trust between your brand, its employees and consumers, but each necessitates a level of maintenance and commitment that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Complying with the regulations and standards of your certifications is much easier with technology like Aptean Food & Beverage ERP. By employing automated quality checks and syncing all of your data in real-time to a single interface, you’ll always have your finger on the pulse of your processes and know straight away if an issue arises.
Reach out to us today to hear more about our purpose-built, industry-specific solutions.