Key Takeaways from the GFSI Global Food Safety Conference

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Conference in Anaheim last week brought together over 1,100 of the world’s leading food safety professionals. We asked LRQA’s leading food safety experts for their views on some of the key themes emerging from the conference.
We opened the interview by asking Cor Groenveld, LRQA Global Head of Food Supply Chain Services and Chairman of the Board for the Foundation for Food Safety Certification (the Foundation), owners of FSSC 22000, what his key takeaways from this years’ event were from a scheme owner’s perspective.

CG:     The GFSI Global Food Safety Conference in Anaheim showed clearly that FSSC 22000 - as one of the 12 GFSI recognised certification schemes - is growing strongly. FSSC 22000 is a complete food safety management certification scheme and this growth is not only in the USA but from other countries and regions as well. Over the past 3 years alone, around 7000 certificates have been issued of which 6000 are in food products and ingredients manufacturing and 1000 in packaging material manufacturing. Another point is that the geographical split of these certificates is shared equally between the Americas, Europe and Asia, thereby making it a truly global scheme. In fact, many delegates at the GFSI conference confirmed that they are already certified to FSSC 22000, or that they are planning to be certified.

During the conference, the Board of FSSC 22000 Stakeholders (Board of FSSC) held an information session which attracted a packed room full of delegates eager to learn more. During the meeting, the delegates were shown the current status of FSSC 22000 and the Board of FSSC also shared their future plans with the assembled audience.

An important message was that they are not aiming to be the largest GFSI recognised scheme, but the best. Therefore FSSC 22000 has a robust integrity programme in place that ensures that the quality of the audits is of the highest level with auditor competency and sector specific expertise playing a crucial role in this.

They also shared the plans to extend the scope of FSSC 22000, with animal feed being the next to be incorporated, which will be potentially followed by transport and storage, retail and catering & restaurants. These developments will make FSSC 22000 a truly global supply chain food safety certification scheme.

Another highlight of the conference was the joint presentation by leading pasta manufacturer Barilla and LRQA. Giorgio Beltrami shared Barilla’s European journey from a decentralised food safety management system to a centralised approach using FSSC 22000 for all their sites with LRQA as their sole European provider for certification. Questions from the audience showed they were very interested in this approach and the lessons that Barilla had learned from this journey.
With 1100 delegates the conference was the best attended in the 13 years of the GFSI history. And although FSSC 22000 is still quite a young scheme in comparison to the GFSI, it has proven to be on a very successful journey!

I:          With a conference theme of ‘One World, One Safe Food Supply’, we asked Cor what this meant to him.

CG:     The theme of this year’s conference was “One World, One Safe Food Supply” and for me, this surely connects with the globalisation of food. For example, a pizza can have 50 ingredients coming from multiple countries and traveling many food miles before ending up on the dinner table.

So if we want to have a safe food supply there cannot be borders; retailers need to be able to trust the manufacturers and manufacturers shall have reliable suppliers. This philosophy applies equally to both established and developing markets and countries.

Food cannot be ‘a little safe’; food needs to be fully safe, regardless of where it comes from. And ensuring a global safe supply also brings high expectations from certification bodies like LRQA. We play an important role in this by delivering audits, certification and training.

With a global presence with local auditors in over 120 countries, we have to make sure we have qualified auditors with in-depth sector specific expertise and work experience. And we have to ensure our audits are calibrated to a very high performance level, irrespective of where in the world they are carried out.

Last but not least, we need stakeholder collaboration to ensure this global, safe supply. The GFSI is the platform for this. Stakeholders including not only retailers, manufacturers and suppliers but also scheme owners, accreditation bodies, certification bodies, food authorities and academics have been working together for 14 years on one common and non-competitive goal: ensuring food safety throughout the supply chain, and around the world!

I:          Next we spoke to Andrew Smith, LRQA’s new Senior VP for Food Services. With over 5000 clients in the food sector alone - from the world’s best known brands to some of the smallest suppliers - we asked Andrew to share his insight on how Global Clients were reacting to this years’ conference and the market overall.

AS:      Generally, most global clients have spent the last five to ten years implementing GFSI approved schemes within their own facilities. This has helped standardise the approach taken to quality and food safety within each company. Whilst LRQA offers assessment, certification and training services for most of the global food safety standards and schemes, there would appear to be an increasing trend for global food companies to choose FSSC 22000 as it is based on a Plan Do Check Act philosophy and lends itself to a process based approach to food safety management.

Having reached a level of maturity in-house, most global manufacturers are now starting to focus on management of supply chain issues as the next big area of risk to food safety performance. For those companies that have traditionally managed supply chain risk by maintaining large teams of in-house supply chain audit teams auditing to their own requirements, there is a clear shift to pushing responsibility down the supply chain by requiring their entire supply base to become certified to a GFSI approved scheme, with company-specific requirements addressed via an addendum to the particular GFSI approved scheme selected by each supplier. In some cases, additional audits of high-risk suppliers against company-specific requirements are also undertaken to provide additional levels of assurance, delivered either through in-house audit teams or through partnering with a Certification Body with global coverage capacity.

I:          Another of LRQA’s food safety experts is Vel Pillay, Food Program Manager, LRQA Americas. Vel has played an instrumental role in the GFSI Global Markets Programme, designed to deliver GFSI-recognised certification to some of the smaller suppliers serving the global food supply chain. 

VP:      The objective of the Global Markets Programme is to build capacity among suppliers to help them meet with the requirements of international standards, national food safety regulations and GFSI benchmarked schemes. Several initiatives were on the go at the conference to ensure the success of building a sustainable food supply chain. The conference gave an opportunity for governments, industry members and tertiary institutions to get together to build connectivity in order to avoid duplication and redundancy.

The interest in the programme is growing fast as evidenced by several new initiatives at building a safer supplier pool. Capacity building is underway in Brazil/China/Malaysia/Latin America to name but a few and these are being done jointly by local governments, public and private sectors. Organisations such as the World Bank and the United Nations have recognised the benefit of building a safer food supply and are heavily involved in the initiatives.

The GFSI Technical Working Group (TWG) on Global Markets Programmes is also actively involved in incorporating feedback from various organisations collected during the last couple of years. During a two day meeting in Anaheim, the TWG worked on revamping the current checklist to make it more user friendly, the protocols to match the checklists and the strategy for the future.

I:          Returning to the theme of ‘One World, One Safe Food Supply’, we asked Vel what this meant to him.

VP:      The conference theme is very appropriate with the times. The population is growing, trade has become global and large companies are outsourcing or offshoring. GFSI as an organisation has become the glue for all of the different sectors to work together to build a safer food supply. The workshops, presentations and discussions during the conference are proof of a collaborative attempt at establishing connectivity in order to streamline processes to ensure that we all work together towards the same objective.

I:          Finally we spoke to Alex Briggs, Senior Marketing Communications Lead at LRQA. During the conference, the GFSI released the much anticipated results of their Efficacy Study. We asked Alex to explain the report findings.

AB:     The long established management systems mantra has been ‘what gets measured gets managed.’ The GFSI has taken this to heart with their global ‘Efficacy Study.’ The research, which was conducted by Diversey Sealed Air was aimed at finding out just how effective the GFSI was in driving food safety improvements, particularly in two areas;

1.    has the GFSI helped deliver safer food or make food safer as a result and
2.    has the GFSI helped reduce audits, both in terms of overall number and the cost of those audits to suppliers?

Frank Yiannas of Wal-Mart highlighted the work of the GFSI in an area he called ‘anonymity of prevention.’ He stated that while the issues and crisis in the global food supply chain are all vigorously documented and debated in public, the increased prevention of food safety issues and the overall improved transparency, consistency and harmonisation across the global food supply chain remains a non-issue, one that no one talks about.

Catherine Francois from Diversey Sealed Air then took over. She highlighted some of the key results of the study. To let the numbers do the talking, here are some of the key results around point 1, has the GFSI helped deliver safer food:

·         72% of the 834 global respondents said that they noticed a more effective post GFSI certification compared to pre-GFSI certification
·         61% said certification against a GFSI recognised scheme has enhanced our ability to produce safe food. There was also a strong sense among respondents that the GFSI was helping to drive food safety up the corporate agenda, with
·         61% saying they have much greater senior management commitment and awareness within businesses today and food safety figures much higher on the agenda than it did pre-GFSI certification
·         77% of respondents believe that GFSI certification had actually delivered much more consistency in their operations and also in documentation.
·         38% said that the GFSI had led to improvements in internal auditing and
·         35% told us that the GFSI had increased their market share

On the downside, in relation to point 2, has the GFSI helped to reduce audits, in terms of actual audit days and cost of audits, the research was less positive. Respondents have actually noticed a 20% increase in overall audit days since moving to GFSI approved standards and schemes, with the average supplier now being audited 5 days a year as opposed to 4.

Still, overall, the results of the GFSI efficacy study were positive, with 72% of all respondents saying that irrespective of the drivers as to why you would implement GFSI recognised certification, yes they would do it again because they’ve seen the benefits through their business.

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