When it comes to the Global Food Safety Initiative, bakers can choose from the BRCGS, Safe Qualify Food Institute (SQF) and an alphabet soup of other options.

“It’s important to first research the various standards and schemes and also to understand what your customers use,” said Tammy Svoboda, certification manager for AIB International. “Your customers will then want to ask a number of questions to help determine what’s right for their operations, such as ‘Do we want a standard that has a quality component or not? Do we have a strong understanding of quality and food safety systems, or do we need the standard to guide us?’ ”

Overall, she said, such certification takes the commitment of the entire organization.

“The amount of work involved in an initial certification depends on the current level and quality of the food safety program in place but often also on customer requirements,” Ms. Svoboda explained. “Many customers already require many of the certification components to be in place. Therefore, the initial certification is not as much work. Some manufacturers have also realized that the second year is harder than the first, so ongoing preparation is critical.”

During certification, companies may achieve different levels or grades.

“The grade is dependent on the number and severity of the non-conformities identified at the time of the audit,” explained Jessica Burke, senior manager, technical services for BRCGS.

The grading system indicates a commitment to continual compliance and dictates future audit frequency.”

For example, BRCGS’ highest grade is “AA,” which is based on receiving five or less non-conformities and results in a 12-month audit frequency. On the other hand, a “D” grade would result in a revisit within 28 calendar days and an audit frequency of six months. Moreover, a “+” in addition to the grade indicates the site is in the unannounced audit program, meaning it will not be notified of the audit date in advance.

“Sites should always aim for the highest grade as it is a direct reflection of their commitment to food safety and continuous improvement,” Ms. Burke said. “The added benefit of participating in the unannounced audit program is that it is an indication that the site consistently operates to high standards and is always audit-ready.”