The 16th Global Food Safety Conference (GFSC) held in Houston from February 27 to March 2 brought together nearly 1,200 food industry representatives—including top food CEOs and government regulators—from 54 countries, resulting in record-breaking attendance. BBC journalist Adam Shaw moderated this year’s theme of Leadership for Growth, keeping the CEOs and regulators on their toes with hard-hitting questions.
But before the official start of the event on February 27, the food industry held its own version of a “G30” summit as governments from 30 countries with over 100 representatives converged before the conference to discuss how they view the potential integration of private food safety assurance schemes within the context of national control systems and how to leverage the industry’s investment in private certification for public policy results. Multilateral organizations included the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, and the International Finance Corp.
Overall, the GFSI event was jam packed with groundbreaking announcements, thought-provoking presentations, dynamic smaller group sessions, and an interactive exhibit floor. One thing was evident during the conference: GFSI has certainly been keeping itself busy.
GFSI, which is powered by The Consumer Goods Forum, announced the publication of its 7th version of the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements. The Benchmarking Requirements V7, which acts as a “food safety passport” across global supply chains, facilitates international trade and mutual trust in the level of safety systems in place.
“With food traded globally, we need to work together to ensure one safe food supply,” said Mike Robach, chairman of the GFSI Board of Directors and VP of corporate food safety and regulatory affairs at Cargill. “That is why GFSI’s Benchmarking Requirements are a spectacularly collaborative effort and really reflect years of expertise from industry experts and food scientists.”
GFSI is expanding its inclusive farm-to-fork approach by incorporating the new scope of the supply chain Food Brokers and Agents in this new edition. V7 also includes new requirements to incorporate unannounced audits and to fight food fraud, and overall to increase transparency in the benchmarking process.
To help in the fight against food fraud, Alchemy Systems and the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) announced a collaboration that enables food companies of all sizes to assess supply chain risk and build robust systems to minimize food fraud. Alchemy’s Food Fraud Risk Assessment and Mitigation services will be combined with USP’s Food Fraud Database and expertise so that companies can better safeguard their brands. The Alchemy-USP collaboration will enable companies to prioritize fraud risks down to the ingredient.
USP also announced its collaboration with the global authenticity competence center of EUROFINS group to tackle food fraud. The agreement includes exploring new analytical testing methods, training, and consulting to help the food sector assess the vulnerability of supply chains, and other services based on food fraud data to inform stakeholders of emerging issues.
Not to be outdone on the collaboration front, GFSI also had its own announcement. Enforcing its message of strengthening the collaboration between the public and the private sectors, GFSI publicized its public-private partnership with the Mexican National Service of Health, Food Safety and Agro-Food Quality (SENASICA), the Mexican government agency responsible for the safety of fresh and minimally-processed food products.
SENASICA has lead efforts among producers, buyers, state governments, and private certification schemes to work towards the ensuring that fresh products are safe. Its partnership with GFSI will focus on two aspects:
- Enabling private schemes to act under Mexican regulation in addition to the certification of the official scheme, which will significantly increase the volume of officially certified products and subsequently ensure confidence in the delivery of safe food to consumers worldwide.
- GFSI and SENASICA working closely together on the enhancement of the Global Markets Programme in Mexico.
GFSI and SENASICA hope that this partnership between public and private entities will act as a model for others countries, encouraging them to adopt third-party certification within their own contexts to enable the harmonization of food safety systems worldwide for the benefit of producers and consumers.
During GFSC 2017, GFSI also showcased its Web Series depicting stakeholders from around the world sharing their stories of growth through GFSI. The first video takes viewers to Myanmar, where the country’s first fisherwoman has leveraged GFSI’s Global Markets Programme through a collaboration with the United Nations Industrial Organization.
GFSI also revealed the winner of its first ever award, which puts the spotlight on companies who have leveraged the GFSI Global Markets Programme, from beginning to end, resulting in full certification to a GFSI-benchmarked scheme. This year’s winner was Champion PetFoods’ Kentucky DogStar Kitchens. The award was made possible by GFSI supporter greenfence.
In addition to catching up on all of GFSI’s latest news, conference attendees also had the opportunity to walk the exhibit floor, where exhibiting companies held informative Tech Talks in the presentation theatre.
Tackling the popular Internet of Things (IoT) topic was PAR Technology’s John W. Sammon in his Tech Talk, “Mobility, IoT, Traceability, and Cloud.” During his talk, he mentioned how using cloud and mobility have become second nature—and so it should be with compliance and quality monitoring. He reviewed a few different technologies that can help, such as GS-128 barcodes, IoT devices and sensors, and cloud reporting.
IoT was also discussed during Rentokil Initial’s breakfast session, “The Internet of Things and its Impact on the Future of Food Safety.”
Another Tech Talk presentation was Bureau Veritas’ VP of Food, Vincent Bourdil speaking on blockchain technology disruption. He explained how this up-and-coming technology is solving major problems of any end-to-end traceability system, such as the willingness to share sensitive information, and the common language between industry players.
On the exhibit floor, Ecolab concentrated on its sanitation offerings and also showcased its newest innovation MARKETGUARD 365, a network of data collection and consolidation paired with onsite expertise to make food safety more precise and efficient. Ruth L. Petran, PhD, VP of food safety and public health at Ecolab, pointed out that while supplying product solutions to industry is of course crucial, Ecolab also places tremendous emphasis on the human aspect. More than half of its employees are in the field to help troubleshoot problems and provide support on their products, she says.
Sealed Air Diversey Care focused in on its Internet of Clean solutions, which connects devices and machines to monitor food safety and hygiene within the supply chain. The Internet of Clean solutions consists of its IntelliConsult, IntelliCare, as well as Augmented Reality—which also places emphasis on human connection. The Augmented Reality is an application for mobile phones and tablets that uses virtual reality to provide customers onsite training, troubleshooting, and information to guide their tasks.
Augmented Reality was also demonstrated at Tetra Pak’s booth. The company focused its discussions with attendees on the increasingly important role that digitalization plays in the food/beverage industry, and how the digitalization of tools and services is helping manufacturers succeed in food safety.
Trace One spoke on how private label products can help drive consumer trust. The company recently conducted a survey to discover how shoppers feel about private label products. Conducted among 2,000 consumers from eight countries, the survey revealed that while consumers have positive sentiments toward private label, there’s mixed reviews when it comes to trust and safety. At GFSC, Trace One provided solutions on how technology can help retailers and suppliers in overcoming this challenge.
Of course, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was a hot topic throughout event. In particular, the SGS breakfast session discussed the best practices in effective FSMA compliance, solutions in enhancing efficiency and facilitating the compliance journey, along with managing Big Data. To help tackle this regulatory roadmap were Donald Prater, acting assistant commissioner for food safety integration, U.S. FDA, and Michael Taylor, senior fellow, Freedman Consulting (former U.S. FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine).
According to GFSC event organizers, the main takeaway for this year’s conference attendees was: Collaborate to build trust and transparency by leveraging technology and relationships. “Safety” is not competitive; food safety is only possible through collaboration—as was seen firsthand at GFSC 2017.