Nothing complicates the simple like some good old fashioned business-speak. The crown jewel of business-speak is, of course, the acronym or abbreviation. From the B2B CEO to the YTD ROI, most industries would quickly ground to a halt if these shortened forms were outlawed.

Food manufacturing is no different. There are the well-known FMCG, IOSH and PPE; and the slightly more obscure FIBB, LMT and RIPHH. If you know what all of these mean, then full marks. But maybe it’s also time to pick up a hobby.

It fits then that the verbiage around quality management standards – sorry, that should be QMS or TQM (total quality management) – is equally abbreviation-heavy and just as confusing to boot.

Conversations around quality management in food manufacturing are likely to throw out certifications and standards such as:

  • SQF
  • GFSI
  • ISO 22000
  • FSSC 22000
  • ISO 9001
  • BRC Global Standard for Food Safety
  • IFS
  • Global GAP

For a food manufacturer keen to act according to best industry practices, what do all these abbreviations mean, do you need to comply with all of them and, if not, which certifications and standards are most important?

Why do any standards and certifications matter?

Obtaining a specific standard or certification essentially means that your company’s manufacturing practices and processes meet a certain level, according to an independent third-party.

Standards and certifications, such as those provided by the International Organization for Standardization and the Food Safety System Certification, for example, are entirely voluntary. Manufacturers are not required to have these certifications to do business.

However, such certifications do give trust to customers, partners, employees and vendors. Retailers and larger manufacturers often demand that all suppliers are certified to safeguard their own supply chain. So, certification is likely to be essential for growing food manufacturers.

Arguably the most significant aspect of these standards is that they’re not just one-and-done certifications. To remain certified, manufacturers must continuously manage, monitor, validate and improve their systems. By progressing to reflect the latest certification requirements, they also make sure that they stay up-to-date and relevant, and ahead of any forthcoming legal changes.

Which certification to choose?

Given the time and expense that gaining certification can entail, you’ll be glad to learn that, unlike Pokémon or Panini football stickers, the objective isn’t to collect them all.

Within the industry, the office or even on the factory floor, you’ll hear chat about becoming “GFSI-certified”. The Global Food Safety Initiative doesn’t actually provide any form of certification itself. Instead, on behalf of the food industry, the GFSI maintains a database of the quality and safety management certifications that it accepts and recognises.

So, the GFSI website is a great first port of call when deciding which certification is the right one for you.

All the certifications on the GFSI’s list cover much the same terrain in terms of content. The difference lies in how certifications are managed and audited. More importantly, food manufacturing is a massive industry, and specific standards are better suited to certain parts of the industry. Ready-to-eat food manufacturers, large-scale bakeries, dairy factories, grains processors, slaughterhouses, canned food processors… they all operate differently and will be better suited to a particular set of standards.

Finally, while certifications for quality management in food manufacturing is increasingly international, there are some regional leanings. British companies, for example, will likely opt for one of SQF, FSSC2000 or BRC.

What about ISO?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is the world’s largest independent developer of voluntary international standards, reaching across business practices of all kinds, way beyond food manufacturing.

Two ISO standards pertain to quality management within the food industry. The first is ISO 22000, which is primarily concerned with food safety management systems. ISO 22000 is the foundation for FSSC22000.

The second is ISO 9001, which is gaining traction despite several notable differences from other certifications or standards.

ISO 9001 is the international standard for a quality management system.
It demonstrates an organisation’s ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and regulatory requirements and to improve processes continuously.
It applies to all service and manufacturing industries of all sizes, from food manufacturers to restaurants, consultancies, construction, engineering and even healthcare.

The benefits of ISO 9001

So what can ISO 9001 offer that other industry-specific standards cannot?

ISO 9001 covers areas such as:

  • Design control
  • Documentation and record control
  • Supplier(s) control
  • Measurement control and analysis
  • Data use for validation/verification
  • Risk Opportunity Analysis
  • Non-conformance and corrective action
  • Improvement application
  • Management planning and oversight
  • Change control
  • Contamination control
  • Infrastructure and work environment controls

In short, it is a standard used to manage and improve processes, rather than the actual quality of output. The idea is that, if you do everything correctly and consistently, the end product will be of an expected standard and repeatable. This is a significant advantage for food manufacturers who are always looking to improve both consistency and efficiency. It doesn’t matter if you produce the best chocolate cake in the world; if one in five of those cakes is a disaster, you’ll soon lose the trust of your customers and retailers.

ISO 9001 also accounts for the changing face of the food manufacturing industry. The ever-increasing presence of automation technologies used by manufacturers is also in scope. At the same time, the fact that ISO 9001 applies to a broad range of industries places food manufacturing in the broader context – essential in a business world and supply chain that is increasingly more complex and overlapping.

So there you have it. Your certification SOS was heard; we hope our answer was A-OK. If you’re currently deciding which standard is right for your company, you can C&P this post to your COO ASAP. Maybe ISO-grade quality management awaits your company.

Matt Warnock

Matt Warnock


Matt is an experienced journalist-turned-marketer, with content in his blood and a particular affinity for tech, SAAS, B2B and hospitality. Originally from the north west of England but now a proud Amsterdammer, his first job was working as a kitchen porter, eventually progressing to the dizzy heights of silver service waiter and occasional barman!

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