Food Safety First At the 2020 GFSI Conference In Seattle

By Steve Wynne-Jones
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Food Safety First At the 2020 GFSI Conference In Seattle

The importance of collaboration in driving the food safety agenda was one of the key topics at the 2020 GFSI Conference, which took place in Seattle last week, welcoming leading retail and food industry representatives from around the world.

The theme of this year's event was 'One Connected World, One Safe Food Supply', and marked the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), which was established by the Consumer Goods Forum in 2000 to build consumer trust in the food they purchase.

This is a topic that is more prevalent than ever, as Forum managing director Peter Freedman said in the opening plenary, "Our agenda remains one of positive change, but we're trying to increase the urgency with which we enact that change."

His sentiments were echoed by Erica Sheward, GFSI director, who called on the 1,000 or so delegates in attendance to leave their commercial interests at the door and work towards developing "a world where all food is safe".

This year's event also saw a change in strategy at the GFSI, with the establishment of new Benchmarking Requirements, dubbed 'Version 2020', which are set to be updated on a yearly basis going forward.


Leading From The Front

As with previous GFSI Conferences, industry leaders from retail, consumer goods and the wider food safety network were among the speakers over the three days, with Day One kicking off with a presentation from Danny Wegman, chairman of Wegmans Food Markets, discussing how the retailer has adopted a zero-tolerance policy on food safety.

"We must question the status quo," he told attendees.

A similar approach is taken at Kerry Group, which adopts a ‘safety first, quality always’ approach throughout its organisation, according to Edmond Scanlon, group chief executive, and Hugo Gutierrez, global chief QSHE officer, who also addressed the morning session.

"Our industry is undergoing phenomenal change at an unprecedented rate, and this is driven by the end consumer," Scanlon explained. "This consumer-led revolution is driving transformation and reshaping our industry."


Later in the day, Craig Wilson, the vice president of Costco, explored the retailer's collaborative approach to building food safety specifications, with the assistance of industry partners, suppliers, regulators and academics.

"When you get advice, you can’t be afraid to use it," he said. "You can’t be afraid to try something different."

Understanding The Market

Day two featured presentations from a number of intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations, who offered insights garnered from field work carried out in various markets, on the implementation of food safety practices. As Steve Wearne, vice chair of the Codex Alimentarius project that seeks to ensure compatible international food standards around the world, noted, food standards "must not treat everyone equally but in an equitable way, because the starting points are not the same".

This was elaborated upon by Isabelle Mballa, senior regional supply chain advisor of the UN World Food Programme, who shed light on the operational intricacies (and headaches) involved in maintaining a safe food supply in some of the world's most vulnerable regions, as well as Kristen MacNaughtan of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who spoke about efforts to improve the lives of farmers in underserved markets.


"It doesn’t matter if you’re in a Hyatt hotel, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the field", she said. "Food safety is connected."

Day two also welcomed a combined presentation featuring food safety, AI and machine learning experts from Amazon, the head office of which is also located in Seattle, and a special 'shark tank' style interactive pitch session, featuring innovators that are developing methods to address food safety concerns.

The winner of this year's contest was Christine Charlotte Akselsen of Kezzler, a Norway based serialisation solution that can assist with production control, validation, tracking, recall and expiry date handling.

Celebrating Food Safety

Day two also played host to the annual Global Markets Awards ceremony, which acknowledges the ‘small but ambitious’ companies that leverage the GFSI Global Markets Programme.


This year's winners include Luna Export, a goat slaughterhouse in Ethiopia which has invested heavily in its production processes in recent years; Shanghai Mcvolf Food Co. Ltd., a biscuit and wafer manufacturer from China; Argentinian bakery firm Alacor; and Linya Smaku, a Ukraine-based ready-to-eat food producer.

For more information on this year’s winners, click here.

Looking Ahead

The final day of the GFSI Conference saw presentations from Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner and Dr Mindy M Brashears, under secretary for food safety at the US Food and Drug Administration, who examined the need for food safety organisations to modernise in step with a changing food industry, as well as industry experts Jason Dorsey and Barbara Chamberlin, who explored ways to engage the next generation of food safety professionals.

It also saw a passing of the torch, as longtime chair Mike Robach and co-chairs Anita Scholte Op Reimer and Gillian Kelleher yielded their positions to a new team of leaders: co-chairs Craig Wilson of Costco and Roy Kirby of Mondelēz International and vice-chairs Carletta Ooton of Amazon and Monique Pellegrino of Danone. As with other parts of the Consumer Goods Forum, the chairs and co-chairs are evenly split between the manufacturing and retail sectors.

The final word, however, went to GFSI director Erica Sheward who called on those present to maintain the positive momentum of the event.

"What comes next?" she asked. "We are not slowing down. We move forward aggressively, rigorously, actively, to shape and craft our new vision for how GFSI will interact with food safety to deliver on our mission with all of you, with all of our partners, for safe food for consumers everywhere."

© 2020 European Supermarket Magazine – your source for the latest retail news. Article by Stephen Wynne-Jones. Click subscribe to sign up to ESM: The European Supermarket Magazine.

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