SPAIN – The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), a global food safety standards overseer, has during its annual conference addressed opportunities to combat issues such as climate change, food waste and plastic pollution while maintaining or enhancing safety and quality.
The three days conference on the theme of Delivering Impact for Safe Sustainable Food was the first in-person GFSI Conference in two years owing to the Covid pandemic.
The meeting of over 600 food safety professionals and stakeholders took place on the Mediterranean coast, not far from the 2,000-year-old Port of Barcelona, as shifts in the global supply chain continue to impact ports and other shipping hubs.
Speakers reckoned with these shifts in plenaries, breakouts and other sessions, sharing concrete solutions for food safety issues that emerged over the past two years and those that predated the pandemic.
GFSI’s Director Erica Sheward in her opening speech, emphasized the food industry’s responsibility to serve and protect the world’s most vulnerable people.
“I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that after a life-changing pandemic, GFSI has managed to bring us together for a face-to-face, handshake-to-handshake, smile-behind-the-mask, non-Zoom event,” she heartily expressed.
The theme of the Conference reflected GFSI’s commitment to sustainability in keeping with its status as a Coalition of Action of The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF).
The plenary ‘Breaking the Silos Between Food Safety and Sustainability’ shone a spotlight on this theme and acknowledged that the two priorities have tended to clash in the past.
In this session and others, leaders from industry, regulatory agencies and the CGF addressed opportunities to combat issues such as climate change, food waste and plastic pollution while maintaining or enhancing safety and quality.
The GFSI leadership also invited the delegates to recommit to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) especially SDGs 1 (no poverty), 2 (zero hunger) and 6 (clean water and sanitation) in honour of UN World Food Safety Day on 7 June.
The organization is conducting a survey to learn how community members will demonstrate their commitments.
Partnerships to meet SDG goals
In line with SDG 17, “partnerships for the goals”, the United Nations (UN) agencies formed a major part of the speaker list including leaders from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
GFSI’s partnerships with these agencies are part of the Race to the Top framework and its efforts to reinforce the organization’s role as a food safety thought leader.
“We’re natural partners. My request to you is that we together commit to a renewed collaboration with GFSI because there’s so much we can do together,” said Steve Wearne, Chairperson of the Codex Alimentarius Commission and Director of Global Affairs at the UK Food Standards Agency.
In order to implement these global priorities on the ground, GFSI banks on on its Local Groups, which promote the GFSI approach with businesses and governments around the world.
Representatives of these groups took the stage in a plenary called ‘World Cafe’, a tour of GFSI’s initiatives in seven regions.
Though each group deals with different local realities, they shared similar goals including hopes to attract more members.
“If you want to see real representation and prioritization of your countries and your regions in the Local Group, then we need you to have a voice within our Local Group and a seat at the table. Don’t wait to be asked; pull up the chair and join us,” said Lindsay Hay, Director of Quality Assurance at PepsiCo and Co-Chair of the EMEA Local Group.
In the plenary ‘Innovation Across the Food Safety Ecosystem’, Janet Cox, Associate Director of Food Safety & Compliance at the e-commerce food retailer HelloFresh, cautioned against placing too much trust in machines.
The pandemic accelerated the uptake of technologies that have previously been discussed at GFSI conferences as mere possibilities, such as fully remote audits, food safety training through virtual reality and the mainstream adoption of grocery e-commerce.
“People are still vital to food safety. Tech and innovation cannot replace individuals, and we still need food safety experts within our business,” Cox said.
However, the conference noted that finding and fostering the next generation of these experts was a special concern in the programme.
As such, the GFSI highlighted its recent initiative to recognize Professional Recognition Bodies that can assess auditor competence.
“This model acknowledges the difference between being trained and being competent and opens the possibility of being competent to a variety of experiences and personal stories,” said the CGF’s GFSI Senior Technical Manager Marie-Claude Quentin.
Thus far, 8,000 auditors form the vanguard of GFSI-recognized certification.
Breakouts and other sessions suggested ways to introduce food science to young students so that they may decide to join the pool of food safety professionals when they begin their careers.