LRQA interviews Cor Groenveld, Global Product Manager for Food Services and respected industry thought leader
LRQA’s Global Product Manager for Food Services and respected industry thought leader, Cor Groenveld was recently interviewed on how management systems and audits support a sustainable food supply chain. Cor will be one of the speakers at the upcoming National Sustainable Food Summit.
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Welcome to the LRQA Business Assurance Food Podcast Series. In this episode, we talk to LRQA’s Global Product Manager for Food Services and respected industry thought leader, Cor Groenveld. Cor will be one of the speakers at the upcoming National Sustainable Food Summit being held in Sydney from 2-4 April 2012. We opened the interview with Cor by asking him how food safety delivers on sustainability.
Cor Groenveld: I think there is a close relationship between food safety and sustainability. Food safety is, I think, still top priority in the food supply chain and I think for the coming years it will remain top priority in the food supply chain. But what you see more and more is that sustainability issues like food security, like child labour, like environmental issues, they become more and more important. And I think in the coming years they will be high on the agenda of consumers but also the retailers who translate the requirements of consumers into the supply chain. Looking at food safety, for food safety to build a management system, a management system to ensure that food safety is controlled in the food supply chain. And a good thing of those management systems is that you can also use them for other risk areas and I think there is a relationship. Food companies have invested a lot of time, money and we have supported them as certification body in building robust management systems for food safety. And the good thing is that they can expand the scope of their management systems to other risk areas like environmental issues, like occupational health and safety, like corporate responsibility and there I think lies the relationship between food safety and sustainability.
Another thing is that food gets scarce, if you see the growing population we expect to have 9.3 billion people in 2050, that is 2.3 billion more mouths to feed. That will mean that we will have to make sure that food is available and that we make food safe of course. So there is also a close connection to ensure that we have sufficient food and also safe food around the world and that is again, I think, a combination between food safety and food sustainability.
Interviewer: As an industry expert, Cor is often quoted as saying that “food has never been safer.” We asked him how this can be when considering the statistics for food related deaths and illnesses around the world.
Cor Groenveld: Yes, I did. It is absolutely true that when you look at the food safety, again I think in the past ten years, stakeholders in the food supply chain have invested a lot of time and money to improve food safety and I really think they have made huge improvements. But the fact is of course, that food gets more and more global and we see that the growing population is also something that has influence. So even if we say that food has never been safe as it is today we still see when something goes wrong, and then the scale of the problem is much bigger than in previous years because there is more interaction between ingredients and the finished products. An example is the peanut scare in America a few years ago. It was an infection of an ingredient, peanut butter with salmonella. But because of the fact that one ingredient was used in thousands of products the scale of the food scare was huge, and I think that’s a big difference with previous years where the scale of food production was lower, when also there was less globalisation of food ingredients and food products. So the impact of a food scare is these days much, much bigger.
Another thing is that it’s also because of the emerging markets I think, when you look at countries in Asia, but also in South America, in Africa, you see that there is a growing demand on food, and that means also there’s also a growing demand in production of food. And that always gives a risk when there is a pressure on food companies to produce more products and also when there is a lot of price pressure, then that is also absolutely a factor. Then there is always a risk that not everyone is taking the right precautions and not having the right quality and food safety level they should have. I think these are a number of factors that still influence food safety in a negative way and it’s always the challenge to make sure that we support those food companies to have the right management systems in place.
Interviewer: We asked Cor what role management systems and audits play in delivering safe and sustainable food supply chains.
Cor Groenveld: If you want to have safe and sustainable food you need to know the hazards and the risks that can influence sustainability and safety of food in a negative way. To find those hazards and risks you have to do a risk analysis. I think that is the first step when you look at management systems. A management system approach can help you to do a robust hazard analysis to find those risks and hazards. And if you find the hazards and risks you have to find the control measures to control them, that’s your second step. Then of course you need to implement it and you have to measure if your control measures are effective. What I just described is the improvement circle, Plan-Do-Check-Act. Looking at the management system, the management system supports a food organisation to build that Plan-Do-Check-Act approach and to make sure that they have the right tools in place to find the significant hazards and risks and to control them and to measure the effectiveness.
Standards like ISO22000 for food safety but also ISO9000 for quality management systems and also ISO14000 for environmental systems, they all have that same principle and that is a good thing. I think looking at management system standards, if you build a management system according to one of the standards, you can integrate the other risk areas in that management system. The next step is of course, is using audits.
I think when you look at an audit it is an expert coming in, it is an auditor with a lot of experience in the sector, also with a lot of knowledge and skills in auditing and they can show you the mirrors. They can challenge if the management system is robust, if the management system is effective, what are the weak spots, what are the strong spots. And I think that is why these audits, when they are done by a certification body or an auditor that makes sure the quality is at a high level, those audits can support the food organisation to continuously improve their management systems.
Interviewer: Staying with the theme of auditing, we asked Cor how important auditor competency is in identifying opportunities and reducing risks across the food supply chain.
Cor Groenveld: I think auditor competency is key. You can have the best standard in the world, you can have the best certification process in the world, but when you do not have a competent auditor you have nothing. I would rather have a good auditor without a standard than a bad auditor with a standard, that what I said more often. The reason for that is, if you want to have an audit where the management system and the hazards and control measures are challenged you need to have an auditor who first has knowledge of the sector. If an auditor worked his whole life in the meat industry, I don’t think he can go tomorrow in the dairy company because the dairy industry has totally different raw materials, totally different hazards and different control measures. So knowledge of the sector is the first thing that is very, very important for an auditor.
Secondly is of course, auditor skills and auditor competence. Doing an audit is a very special job. Sometimes I think we under-estimate how difficult it is to do a good audit, doing a good interview, being able to review documents, being able to find the interaction between different processes, being able to go from the control of a process to the fact that if people are trained. If the resources are in place and if something goes wrong, that they have tools in place to improve it again. So I think an auditor is not like we saw a few years ago, someone who ticks the box, its not someone who does an inspection and just checks if everything is in place. It is someone who understands the sector but also understands the principle of management systems and is able not only to find out if the food organisation is doing a good job today, but also if they will do a good job tomorrow.
Most audits are only once a year, can you imagine, only once per year the auditor comes in and he has to make the picture if they have an effective management system. To be able to do that you really have to understand management systems and you have to be able to review if the organisation has tools in place to make sure it is not only going right today, but it is also going okay tomorrow and a month later.
Interviewer: LRQA is part of the Lloyds Register Group whose motto is “Adding Value to Society”. We asked Cor to explain what role this plays in LRQA’s strategic approach to food safety?
Cor Groenveld: I have worked now for 18 years for LRQA and what I see is that LRQA is investing a lot of time, but also money, in the food supply chain. How do they do that? They support a lot of initiatives, a lot of different expert groups and a lot of different technical committees. Being members of those technical committees, for instance being a member of the GFSI Technical Committee, the ISO22000 committee, supporting the board of FSSC. Being a member of all these committees is very important to support the food supply chain in their journey to improve food safety and sustainability. One thing I find very important is harmonisation. If you look ten years ago, we had more than 100 food safety standards. At this moment we have, I think, 9 food safety standards, so we have gone from 100 to 9. We still have work to do but I think that is already a big improvement, the same in supporting the food supply chain to translate food safety through the whole food supply chain from farm to fork.
I think that the fact that LRQA and Lloyds Register are supporting these initiatives by making it possible for people like me, but also other food experts in the world, to be a members of those committees. To support the discussions and to support the journey to harmonisation and improvement of food safety management systems, I think that is absolutely a great job and it shows how Lloyds Register is added value to the food society.
Interviewer: We asked Cor what customised audit programmes offered when compared to the normal certification process
Cor Groenveld: I think third party certification processes are getting stronger, especially the management system certification processes using standards like ISO22000 and FSSC22000. I think they really are sufficient for companies to have a good audit to get the input for improvement and what is also good on those third party certification processes there is a control in place, there is an accreditation, there is a scheme owner who has rules for the certification body. So there is also, I think, on a high level, control of the integrity of those third party certification processes. What the company can do, and I see that it happens more and more, is asking the certification body if they are able to put on top of the third party certification process a review of additional requirements, specific requirements that are important for that food organisation. I think that can be an added value because you still have that robust third party certification in place, it is according to the international rules, but in the same audit event the auditor is able to look at a number of additional requirements that can be important for the client. I think that is beneficial because it saves time, you can do it in the same audit and it provides the food company with additional information on top of the third party certification.
Interviewer: Finally, we asked Cor if he could give an example of how LRQA works with clients across the food sector.
Cor Groenveld: We have a huge number of food clients. I think it is around 5000 different food companies at the moment. Most of them we do third party certification with according to one of the GFSI recognised standards and we see that most of them are now moving to ISO22000 and FSSC22000. The best response and the best evidence working with these clients is their feedback. What we see more and more is that, and they tell it themselves at conferences like the Food Safety Conference in Orlando, we get more and more feedback and figures on the improvement they make by implementing third party certification and having external audits. They show figures that their complaints go down, that they have less recalls and that they have less waste.
So, I think that is the real evidence that food safety management systems and third party certification brings benefits to the food companies. Another thing is, and that was an example of customised audit programmes, so on top of third party certification what we can also do is using the information from the audits to provide organisations with good management information. You can imagine when you have a global client where we have more than 100 sites in different regions and even different product groups, that for these kinds of organisations it is very interesting to look at trends. And we are able to do the analysis of the auditory boards and give them a breakdown in a management report of the frequency of findings against certain topics. We can show them the strengths and weaknesses.