The recognition of Freshcare's certification program by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) reflects global best practice in food safety management and provides Australian growers and packers with better access to international markets, according to the team co-ordinating Australia's on-farm food safety program.
From February 2020, the fresh produce industry’s own assurance program, Freshcare’s Food Safety & Quality Standard – Edition 4.1 meets the needs of Australian producers in fulfilling both domestic and global market requirements.
Interim CEO, Yvonne Diab says the Australian industry identified the need for a globally recognised quality assurance system to strengthen food safety requirements, raise the bar on best practices for growers, provide management consistency, transparency and encourage better collaboration with certification bodies and auditors.
"There weren’t a lot of changes required to the existing Freshcare standard to achieve the GFSI benchmarking”, Ms Diab said. "The benefits trickle down every level of the fresh produce supply chain as a result of this. The whole point is to ensure the produce that is supplied to market is safe and Freshcare provides a robust practical approach to helping producers assure local and international customers that their produce is safe.”
Now in its 20th year, Freshcare continues to maintain an approach that is underpinned by science, supported by training and remains practical and relevant for industry while aligning with global best practice.
“The GFSI recognition re-enforces Freshcare’s rigorous commitment to domestic and global food safety compliance, reinforcing local and international buyer confidence in the safety and quality of Australian fresh produce from paddock to plate," Ms Diab said.
She added while there are many benefits including enhanced safety, enhanced reputation and enhanced market opportunities, the overarching benefit is around risk; the mitigation and management of risk, for any sized business.
"History speaks for itself in terms of the relatively low numbers of serious food safety incidences over the years," Ms Diab said. "The numbers are low in relation to the amount of fresh produce that is grown and distributed in this market. It's critically important that we stay on top of it – and we do with a robust, stringent assurance program.”
The Global Food Safety Initiative program was formed by a consortium of leading food industry experts who developed a model that determines equivalency between existing food safety schemes, whilst leaving flexibility and choice in the marketplace. Ms Diab says that while the criteria that was formed is quite specific, a lot of it is already being practised by the leading markets.
"The more robust local programs share common elements with regards to safe growing activities," she said and “the GFSI re-enforces and improves on that”.
Ms Diab admits it can be a tricky balance for small to medium businesses having to comply with strict requirements but the benefits are well worth it when you consider GFSI recognition of the Freshcare Standard strengthens local and international market access by creating a level playing field for growers of all sizes.
"The key benefit of GFSI recognition for Australian growers from a Freshcare point of view is that it provides an added level of trust in Australian produce in global markets," she said. "Freshcare is also the only GFSI benchmarked standard that was specifically developed for Australian producers, taking into consideration Australian growing conditions and is supported by intense training to ensure a thorough understanding of the standard requirements and application. Independent audits of the Freshcare standard verify global compliance is met, thereby contributing to risk mitigation and trust in the certification that Freshcare provides.”