NICE, France, 27th February 2019 – While Nice reverberates with the activity of its famous Carnaval, the Acropolis buzzes with a different kind of festivity: the second day of the GFSI Conference. Always the busiest day of the event, Wednesday’s schedule included over a dozen topics and an awards ceremony and closed with the most anticipated social event of the week.
Today’s first plenary was dedicated to the Global Markets Programme, GFSI’s step-by-step capability building programme for food operations on the pathway to certification. Mike Taylor, serving as moderator, lauded the programme for ‘creating a group of ambassadors for GFSI around the world’.
The session shared the voices for many of those ambassadors, beginning with a new episode of GFSI’s web series about one of last year’s winners: Ruben Vincon Veracruz of Asociaciones Agroindustriales Serranas, a coffee, cacao and allspice producer in Mexico. The video interspersed shots of colourful Mexican village life with a Global Markets testimony: the company has had zero rejections since implementing the programme. Two other winners from last year sent in their own video messages to share their post-award experiences, both of which included positive media coverage that led to increased profits and greater food safety awareness in their home countries.
To help delegates understand the Global Markets Programme, Luis Hernandez Juarez from Nestlé Mexico and Pierre de Ginestel from Auchan explained how they apply the programme at their own companies, and selection committee member Jean Kamanzi explained the criteria for the awards. Finally, Mike Taylor and Mitch Chait, CEO of awards sponsor Greenfence, took the stage to announce this year’s winners.
“I want to thank the winners for being here,’ GFSI Director Véronique Discours-Buhot said in closing. ‘You fill us with your energy, and there’s no better proof that what we do every day is important and useful.”
The second plenary opened with a summary of the results of the DNV-GL survey, which was answered by over 1,600 food safety professionals. The 91% of respondents who said that digital technologies do not play a major role in their operations could have learned something from this tech-savvy session.
Steven Hather, Director of The Recall Institute, began with an overview of food recalls from the past 12 months, with a map that illuminated their global spread. He pointed to a decades-old incident that sheds light on these more recent challenges: the 1999 Coca-Cola recall in Belgium. Analyses of the reports suggest that this well-known recall may have been a perception problem rather than a quality problem. Today, companies can use social media to influence perception and carry messages through what Hather called the ‘crisis storm’.
Subsequent speakers presented case studies on ways that technology, including social media, influenced more recent food safety incidents. Jerome Combrisson from Mars Global Services spoke of a truly devastating food safety incident: the listeria outbreak in South Africa, which was finally traced and brought to an end with the help of whole genome sequencing. Howard Popoola, Vice President of Corporate Food Technology and Regulatory Compliance at Kroger, described the methods the United States’ largest supermarket chain used to mitigate the recent outbreak of E. coli in romaine lettuce, including dealing with media and regulators. He closed with a message to the regulators in the audience that could be a motto for the conference: ‘It’s less work if we work together.’
Finally, Julie Pierce of the UK FSA, who has led the charge on bringing her organisation into the digital age, brought a regulator’s perspective to the conversation. True to her ‘Director of Openness’ title, Julie believes in the power of sharing and communicating through data. Her team’s projects include social media ‘listening’ campaigns that track mentions of symptoms on platforms like Twitter and Youtube to map the spread of pathogens and risk assessment models that incorporate data from a wide variety of sources. Julie agrees that regulators should work with industry for the benefit of both. ‘It has to be an organisation like GFSI who can convene the conversation, do the collaboration, get everybody broadly involved in this together,’ she said.
The plenaries were far from the only delegate opportunities during this programming-packed conference day. The morning started early with four concurrent Special Sessions, each focused on one technological solution that is changing the way food works. Blockchain remained a hot topic — in one session, representatives from Greenfence demonstrated how organisations can apply their blockchain solution in ‘just 15 minutes’, while in a nearby room leaders from companies including METRO, Danone, Carrefour and Tyson offered their own testimonies on the efficacy of blockchain and other technologies to improve traceability and transparency. The vast potential of ‘going digital’ also proved to be fertile grounds for discussion; the two remaining sessions described applications of digital technology to monitor products and create value from the start of the supply chain to the consumer.
Breakout Sessions offered another opportunity to delve deeper into the details of some of the topics that the plenaries discuss more broadly. Today’s schedule packed a total of six breakouts, plus one CPO Session, into two concurrent blocks. The sessions took a solutions-based approach to the theme of emerging challenges and the future of food safety, with experts proposing measures such as third-party certification, data management and updated microbiological methodologies.
The day also included four Tech Talks, which delegates enjoyed during afternoon networking breaks. The creative solutions on display included a client-oriented platform for designing risk-based audit programmes by Lloyd’s Register, a trend risk monitor to assist quality managers by IFS Management and methods for maintaining standards without compromising innovation from TraceOne. The senior manager of CGF’s Environmental Sustainability team presented a talk encouraging GFSI stakeholders to look for inspiration at other CGF initiatives.
After the close of the day’s programming, the delegates strolled down the Promenade des Anglais (or took the shuttle bus) for the Official Dinner at Le Negresco, a landmark so iconic to Nice that it features on several of the Carnaval’s floats. Against the grand Neoclassical backdrop of the hotel, the conference topics sparked discussion that proved GFSI’s status as the ‘world’s biggest conversation for food safety’.