Around the world, an estimated 600 million people fall ill after eating contaminated food each year, and concerns over food safety have been intensified by COVID-19. Yet the food industry has responded with brilliant commitment to the challenges of the pandemic – and it was inspiring to hear so many examples of this at last week’s annual Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Conference.
As one of the world’s largest networks to help achieve safe food, GFSI is committed to making food safety everyone’s business. Collaboration is vital to everything we do – and I always enjoy sharing with and learning from others across the food safety community. Some 800 food industry leaders, experts and innovators from over 60 countries came together for the three-day virtual forum, reflecting on a year like no other and looking ahead to the future.
Themed ‘Rethink, Reset, Recharge’, the event featured talks on a whole range of areas to strengthen systems that feed the global population, with experts from organisations like the FAO, Mondelēz International, Amazon and the World Health Organization taking part.
After three days of wide-ranging discussions, I came away with three overriding reflections:
1. The industry has shown tremendous ingenuity and dedication
Despite all the difficulties the pandemic continues to present, the industry has shown brilliant commitment to ensure safe food for consumers around the world. As Dirk Van de Put, Chairman and CEO of Mondelēz International said, the pandemic has encouraged many organisations to do things differently or to find silver linings.
For example, we heard how online platforms and virtual technology are transforming the essential education and training for food safety professionals. We also heard from companies that thrived in the face of shifting shopping practices – such as Freshippo, HelloFresh and Amazon.
Janet Cox, Associate Director of Food Safety & Compliance at HelloFresh International, described the agility required to keep food safe while the supply chain was in flux: “We’ve learned we can deliver and implement more while still ensuring that food safety is not compromised”.
2. Collaboration has never been more critical
The past year has highlighted just how vital it is to pull together around common goals. Food retailers, manufacturers, suppliers, the agriculture industry, governments and many others across the world came together to maintain a safe food supply during a heavily disrupted time.
Now we need to strengthen that sense of collective endeavour. The food industry continues to face significant challenges ahead – including combatting food fraud and managing the effects of climate change. Only through collaboration can we seize the opportunities for positive progress, building trust and transparency with consumers and protecting the industry.
Although the GFSI Conference has concluded, another major milestone for collaboration will be the upcoming World Food Safety Day on 7th June, which will encourage each person involved in every step of the process of getting food from the field to plate to understand their responsibility.
3. The future of food safety is hugely promising
Many exciting developments were showcased at the event, including a Hong Kong-based company that has developed a way to sterilise foods at low temperatures so they maintain their flavour and texture – with technology effective enough to keep meat shelf-stable for up to two years.
We also heard about the rising stars of tomorrow, through the Farm-to-Fork Accelerator, a mentorship programme supporting start-ups in areas including food safety and agricultural technology. The accelerator’s Managing Director, Brett Brohl, himself an experienced entrepreneur and investor, had this call to action for larger companies: “If you’re a big corporation, you have to be willing to help founders and understand that by doing so, you are actually going to help yourself.”
During the event, we announced a significant new chapter for GFSI, which is now becoming a Coalition of Action under The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF). Building on GFSI’s 20 years of experience, the new Coalition will continue to represent the food industry’s commitment to food safety and invest in voluntary advances for the benefit of people worldwide and the wider industry. It will also increase efforts to move with more agility and transparency.
Thank you very much to everyone who joined this year’s Conference. I hope you all left feeling as proud of, and excited by, the industry as I did.