The Consumer Goods Forum’s Global Food Safety Conference was held February 26 to 28 in Anaheim, Calif. with a record-breaking attendance of over 1,100 attendees from 50 countries. The annual Conference, now in its 13th year and returning to the U.S. after its European event last year in Barcelona, brings together leading specialists to advance food safety globally. It provides the opportunity for attendees to benefit from various “hot” topic sessions and meet and network with industry peers on the exhibit floor.
The thematics of the Conference are defined by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Board of Directors. Here were some highlights of the event.
GFSI Efficacy Study
Attendees were updated on preliminary results from the GFSI Efficacy Study. Conducted by Sealed Air, the global online survey objectively measured the efficacy of the GFSI recognized schemes. The study consisted of 834 respondents from 15,000 manufacturers across 21 countries and 10 languages in Western Europe, North America, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand. A large majority of survey respondents said that the implementation of GFSI recognized schemes has been beneficial for their business and confirmed that they would do it again.
“Certification to a GFSI recognized scheme demonstrates that food safety management systems are more effective, thus delivering greater confidence in the safety of the products which are delivered to the consumer,” said Catherine Francois, global director of Diversey Consulting, part of Sealed Air, France.
Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for Walmart and vice chair of GFSI commented, “This landmark study provides further evidence of the role credible private food safety efforts can plan in advancing food safety, enhancing regulatory compliance, and promoting a culture of food safety, so that consumers worldwide can live better.”
The latest developments on preventing food fraud, a fairly new issue for GFSI, were discussed. Economically motivated, food fraud can include such activities as substitution, dilution, and counterfeiting. Petra Wissenburg, corporate quality projects director at Danone, Singapore, who has been leading the work of the Food Fraud Think Tank, conveyed that to understand how to control food fraud, you need to think like a criminal. She said it’s about understanding the vulnerabilities to achieve prevention. The work of the Think Tank has delivered a set of requirements on what needs to be done with the aim to have these recommendations integrated into the GFSI recognized food safety management schemes.
Michèle Lees, director collaborative research at Eurofins Analytics, France, also worked in the Food Fraud Think Tank. She proposed that a detection and deterrent strategy doesn’t mean more testing but “SMART” testing. The SMART testing concept stands for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Traceable. Lees said there are two new proposed elements for the GFSI Guidance Document: identification of risk through a vulnerability assessment followed by the creation of a vulnerability control plan to provide mitigation methods.
Jeff Moore, senior scientific liaison, United States Pharmacopeia, went through the work of what USP is doing to help. He explained the factors that could be included in a vulnerability matrix tool. Ingredients can be “characterized by integrity, identity, and purity, thereby excluding what shouldn’t be there.”
Global Food Safety Cultures
In Japan, the number of foodborne illness cases is relatively small compared to that of global perspective. Mika Yokota, director, food industrial corporate affairs office, Food Industry Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in Japan, described the Food Communication Project—a collaboration between the government and manufacturers in Japan. This sharing network involving over 1,600 manufacturers helps build understanding between all and is a foundation to further develop the food safety culture, as communication is the key to trust in Japan. She said that the collaboration with the GFSI Japan Local Group has delivered a comparison between the GFSI Global Markets Program for capacity building and its own Food Communication Project. With further development, this Japanese model could provide a connection between local and global engagement.
Ryk Lues, professor of food safety, faculty of health and environmental sciences, at Central University of Technology in South Africa spoke about training and influencing food safety behaviors, pointing out that “Behind every food safety system there is a human being” with all the aspects that influence their behaviors, such as needs, emotions, and cultures. As such, “knowledge doesn’t equal behavior change” when it comes to training. Lues cautioned industry to stop thinking in terms of “them,” i.e. the workers, and start thinking in terms of “us,” i.e. workers and management.
Mainstream media has certainly done its fair share of reporting on the food safety issues in China. According to Joseph J. Jen, former Under Secretary of USDA in charge of Research, Education and Economics, “Historically, China has little or no food safety culture.” Jen pointed to two traditions that reflect this attitude. First, the Chinese believes that the human body’s own immune system is the best food safety defense. Second, China consists of big risk takers when it comes to a chance to make money, even if the result is unsafe food. Jen commented that part of the problem is chemical rather than microbial in nature. In China, there is a “more is better than less” mentality, which is translating to more use of pesticides and antibiotics. The good news is that large food companies in China are starting to take food safety seriously—meanwhile many of the small and medium size businesses are in need of food safety knowledge and training.
Re-thinking HACCP was on many experts minds. According to Robert L. Buchanan, director and professor at the Center for Food Safety and Security Systems, University of Maryland, HACCP tends to focus on elimination of risk though it wasn’t designed for that. The identification of hazards, control points, the establishment of limits, and the subsequent monitoring and verification isn’t enough. He said that too many people think HACCP is distinct from risk assessment and identified two risk types: the risk of compliance and the residual risk associated with the product even when the system is under control. That’s where stringency is needed. Buchanan urged that HACCP needs to evolve through bold thinking and courageous leadership.
SGS Global held a noteworthy discussion that reviewed results of its allergen management survey. Evangelia Komitopoulou, PhD, global technical manager – food, SGS, stressed the fact that allergen labeling is causing confusion among consumers due to the overuse of precautionary labels. The discussion also turned to the difficulty behind setting allergen thresholds. Joe Baumert, assistant professor at the Department of Food Science and Technology and co-director for the Food Allergy Research & Resource Program for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln pointed out that there is a large difference in individual thresholds—some people are sensitive to the tiniest of elements where as others have a higher tolerance. In addition, there are no laws about how clean is clean enough. There is still much work that needs to be done in this sector, including the fact that auditors need better training on allergens as there are many inconsistencies.
Another interesting topic was brought up during the Sealed Air Diversey session on how ethnography can be used to change food safety practices. With Sealed Air’s help, the retail giant Target was able to conduct an ethnographic study in its stores—interviewing and observing its food service employees in naturally occurring environment. Through the study, Target identified “why” something happens and got better insights in improving its training practices. However, Benjamin Chapman, PhD, a former professor of food safety and the publisher of www.barfblog.com, was quick to remind that more training does not matter unless you can make the food handlers care.
On the Exhibitor Floor
There were of course plenty innovative ideas and solutions to be found in the exhibit hall as well. Here are just a few examples.
Sparta Systems’ recently launched TrackWise Mobile, which allows organizations to expand the reach of their quality processes, reporting, and analytics beyond the four walls of their businesses. The product suite—TrackWise Mobile, TrackWise Mobile Analytics, and TrackWise Audit Execution Package—provides decreased cycle times for reviews and approvals because all users have access to quality documentation on their mobile devices and more rapid entry of quality events and customer complaints from virtually any location at time of occurrence.
GE Intelligent Platforms’ stressed importance of digitization and automated systems. Automated systems can be key to limiting the damage of recalls. With automated systems and digitized records, manufacturers have traceability and can cut down on the size of recalls by determining exactly which plants and lines have been impacted along with where the products from those lines have gone. Traceability can also make it much easier for manufacturers to comply with FDA regulations and produce audit reports which, without digital processes in place, can take hours of valuable manpower better spent on food safety.
Meanwhile, LRQA touted its services concerning assessment, certification, and training for all the global food safety standards and schemes to help reduce risk. The organization also emphasized its ability to conduct second-party and customized audits.
The main focus over at Trace One was its T.Transparency, a cloud-based solution that connects all supply chain communities on one platform to improve supply chain visibility, collaboration, and productivity. This transparent view of multi-tier product supply networks can share product origin, quality, and certification information.
Next year, the Global Food Safety Conference will be once again heading overseas—setting its sights on Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.