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The Future in Focus

Listen to our podcast where we speak with Kimberly Coffin about the importance of GFSI.

Podcast: GFSI Conference 2022 - Episode 1 - The importance of GFSI

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GFSI Conference 2022: Episode one
27 MARCH 2022 09:00 ◦ 18 MINUTES

In this episode, we speak to LRQA’s voice of supply chain assurance within the Food, Beverage and Hospitality industry, Kimberly Coffin, about the importance of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and their annual conference, where, this year, LRQA will be exhibiting in a face-to-face capacity.

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LRQA: The Future in Focus

You can listen to the podcast directly, where LRQA interviews Kimberly Coffin, our Supply Chain Assurance Technical Director at LRQA, or you can read the transcript below.

Who are GFSI and why are they so important to the global food supply chain?

The GFSI is really the coalition of action with the focus on food safety and food safety standards within the consumer goods forum. Its comprised of 37 retailers and manufacturers and really leading if you will kind of that focus on food safety standards and actually driving continuous improvement in food safety across that extended food safety community.

It isn’t a government body, it’s not a company, it is well and truly an independent collective organisation. That has, as we know been around now for twenty years, with a key focus on really ensuring that as a broader industry group that they are overseeing those food safety standards and actually really with an overriding vision to help provide access to safe food for people everywhere.

Its an interesting organisation to have been involved with not directly from a GFSI perspective but as a key part of that food safety community. They’re very much, its very much seen as if you will that the leading, the worlds really leading network of bringing together food safety professionals to actually drive food safety standards. And increasingly to actually look at what are those new and emerging issues around the area of food safety and how to actually ensure that as an industry group across the globe that we’re actually tackling those emerging issues. That we’re lifting standards, we’re driving continual improvement with regards to the production of safe food and the, ensuring that there’s access to safe food everywhere as I said around the world.

They have three key kind of principle objectives that I think are really important to actually kind of think about. Probably the one that we’re most familiar with and really probably where the roots of the organisation came into play is around benchmarking and harmonising those standards. Initially it was around one standard and the ability to supply safe food to all, its really very much where the organisation started their focus. And in that they have set out what they call their benchmarking standard for food safety standards, internationally recognised food safety standards.

Often when we work with customers and we talk about GFSI certification, there is no such thing as GFSI certification what there is there’s certification to independent standards that have been benchmarked to that GFSI framework as best in class or excellence in the area of food safety standards to be applied across principally food manufacturing but more recently across the whole value chain from farm to fork for a holistic management of food safety.

Again, increasingly we are starting to see as well another key pillar within the GFSI, which is around promoting public and private collaboration and that’s really brought a government link into those best in practice food safety standards and looking at how governments can actually benefit from independent food safety certification against those GFSI benchmark standards. And how that can bring more robust food safety into the actual frameworks that are used to actually regulate food safety across the globe.

And then the final key pillar that sits under the GFSI’s vision and their mission is around capability building and this is where I think it was probably about ten years ago, they put a very large focus on the fact that you know in some of the developing parts of the world where food is manufactured and food is being handled that the high excellence standards weren’t immediately achievable and so looking at how could they actually put frameworks in place. How could they actually promote building capability through a very formalised mechanism if you will of both education, as well as support and through kind of independent verification to take companies that may not be at the top tier level of manufacturers and retailers at a global level but how could they help and assist and support their journey in actually adopting, implementing and raising the bar if you will on the food safety standards that they’re using to produce their food and actually start to achieve certain elements of that excellence again, to provide safe food for everyone.

Great, next question. This week is the Global Food Safety Conference, GFSI’s annual conference. Why is this years conference so relevant in the light of current circumstances?

Oh gosh I don’t even know where to start to be honest. I think probably the first place that I would like to start, it has been an incredible two years. I can remember back, it seems so long ago to Seattle, and the energy in Seattle and I think for many people within the food industry that’s the last time we were all together and it was at the GFSI annual conference at the end of February.

And my goodness the things that we talked about there we never would have expected what would happen from a world perspective and how important that a lot of the work that had been done prior to that conference actually came into play in us ensuring that as an industry that we excelled over this period of time and that we were resilient and that we were able to deliver food that was safe for consumption right across the globe.

So I see one of the probably as a starting point and I think probably many of the professionals like me and that will be attending the conference, are really looking at this as you know this is going to be a great opportunity for us to actually share learnings and all this stuff that we’ve learned and we’ve learnt so much. When we think about the changes with regards to how consumers purchased food over this period and as well as how we actually were able to continue with certain very, let me start again, how we were able to actually pivot with regards to how we verified our supply networks.

Prior to the Covid pandemic well and truly we very much relied on very traditional types of audit mechanisms moving around the globe to actually visit manufacturing locations, visit retail operations, you know a lot of it was done face to face and we’ve actually, there’s been so much that’s been achieved through the application of technologies and through remote assessment and understanding what actually is possible and what’s not possible in a virtual world.

There is just so much for us to share with regards to how well as an industry we did over this period of time as an essential service basically is to keep things moving, how, and to continue feed customers and consumers all around the globe with safe food.

But even more importantly, looking at and talking about the, really kind of this need for rapid and our ability to make rapid changes in what has been an incredibly challenging landscape. I think also it’s really going to give us a great opportunity to actually look at food safety 4.0, and I’m not going to say 2.0 or 3.0 it’s definitely 4.0 and say you know, what are those new risks. Really kind of if you will, kind of step back and actually think about what are the true risks to food safety, how have they changed in the last two years, where do we need to be starting to focus our energies. What are some of things that, and what some of the new tools that we have, and how do we use those tools smartly to actually help us if you will, from my perspective, take a more targeted focus as opposed to a foundational focus with regards to food safety.

I think the foundations are there and we’ve proved that and those have been tested rigorously over the last two years, its about now and looking at what are the new changes, what are those new risks, what are the things that we need to be conscious about that can have an impact on food safety. As we move into a digital world how do we use data better, how do we actually get more out of the things that we’re doing, how do we become more digitally enabled as an industry and a sector. And how do we use that data to actually help us target and understand emerging areas of risk to get ahead of and be more proactive in how we manage risk.

As well as to really look at what the impact is with regards to if we are moving to a more technical, more digital, more really kind of what am I trying to say, a more open type of environment with regards to the information that we have about food safety risk and actually looking at how we can collaborate is what are some of those risks and using those technologies and sharing information.

We need to actually get smarter about the impact of cyber security risks and look at what other control mechanisms that we need to have in place to ensure that the information, the data and the digital mechanisms that we’re using aren’t compromised because of ransomware attacks or particular cyber-attacks that may actually then have a, provide us with a grey space if you will that we’re not cognitive of the true risks that we’re facing.

I think then my final kind of piece when looking at why it’s so important is as an industry we’re also seeing an increased impact and need, and I think it’s really exciting that sustainability is being brought into the conversation as part of this years GFSI conference. There’s a new lens that we need to start thinking about in the context of not just safe food but the fact that safe food needs also to be sustainable and that’s going to challenge us specifically challenge some of our technical resources that we have within most organisations. We’ve got to ensure that not only are we meeting those consumer demands, making, doing the right thing by nature in the food production, in the food production systems that we’re using.

We need to understand and we need to start talking about how do we balance that and the changes that we need to make from an industry perspective in order to meet our sustainability commitments and do the right things for the environment with if you will the fact that we cannot, we must ensure that we cannot compromise food safety, food safety is a given.

I’ve been raised in my career with the one ethos is, is that if food is not safe to consume it’s not food so we need to make sure that we get that balance right and that we actually are looking at sustainability and safe food from a holistic perspective.

Tell us about some of the organisations and global food influencers who will be attending the conference this year.

Its going to be a bit strange at the conference this year because its going to be smaller just and looking at the numbers and looking at how’s attending but god its going to be a great mix of people still. You’ve got the board members obviously will all be there which are leading members both from retail as well global manufacturers. The ability to actually hear their thoughts with regards to the key priorities and the objectives of GFSI and where they actually see the next stage in building if you will kind of that next level and that next framework from a food safety standards perspective. And how they incorporate a number of those challenges, a number of those key learnings and what they’re thinking about.

Again it’s, you know there’s a great representation from governments around the world and think what we’ve seen is with the smarter food safety in the US and all of the great work that Frank Ennis and the team there are doing around looking at lifting and driving the standards of food safety from a regulatory perspective and really looking at how GFSI can actually help with that regulatory framework as well as representatives from the EU and other, some of the smaller countries and regions, there’s going to be a great representation for that as I spoke about that public/private collaboration process.

Again there’ll be a big focus on the developing markets and lots of great stories I’m sure that will come through for us to actually see some of the key learnings and some of the advancements that have been made over what probably in many of those markets have been very difficult circumstances over the Covid period.

And finally really LRQA and thinking about kind of our competitive sets, as well as you know a lot of those kind of the support services that are so critical in ensuring that food safety standards continue to be verified, continue to be supported and actually delivered is going to be fantastic to actually have us all around the table again and be able to look at the advances as well that have been made over the course of the last year. I’m really keen to see and I’m going to spend some time well and truly in the exhibition hall looking at a lot of the tech, because I’m expecting there’s going to be a really significant step change in the role that technology, data, information is going to play in kind of that next, that next advancement with regards to food safety, as I said the food safety 4.0.

What is one thing you’re looking forward to most at, at this week’s GFSI conference?

Gosh only one thing. There’s so many after sitting behind a computer and talking to a computer screen for the last two years, I think just being out amongst the food professional community and being able to really have the opportunity to talk to people face to face and look I Iove this stage, I love the fact that from an LRQA perspective we’re going to be delivering a great tech talk and that I have the privilege to actually do that on behalf of LRQA. I’m really excited about the topic that I’m going to be sharing with the 500-600 participants that are going to be in attendance. Talking about an area that I think is particularly important which is around that safe food needs to be sustainable food and really about what that means and the context of how companies need to really take charge of that next evolution of supply chain risk and tease out some of those key critical points that businesses need to be thinking about as they start to work down this parallel path of sustainability, commitments and their impact on food safety and food safety risk and how to get that balance right. As well as looking at and thinking about applying those basic scientific methodologies that we have always used for the management of food safety within our operations and how we can actually look at and start to think about applying similar methodologies and similar methods by which are verifying our commitments to sustainability and lessening our impact on nature.

As well as then looking at the role of technology data, and how to actually really harness the power of that data through things like data and analytics, and helping us to understand not only emerging risks, but also looking at how to be more proactive, how to be more focused and really how to build on the great foundations that we’ve established from a food safety management system perspective.