The celebratory atmosphere of the GFSI Conference 2020 — held on the year of GFSI’s 20th anniversary — continued into the second day of the event, always the zenith of the week. Thursday’s schedule was packed with exciting content, including the Global Markets Awards ceremony and the first-ever edition of the GFSI pitch contest, and closed with the food safety community’s most hotly-anticipated social highlight.
The first plenary of the morning illustrated the conference theme — One Connected World. One Safe Food Supply — in vivid colour. The speakers took delegates on a series of journeys to distant locations around the globe, from refugee camps to Ukranian supermarkets, all equally deserving of safe, wholesome food.
The session opened with a GFSI Web Series filmed in Nigeria, home of the 2019 Global Markets Awards winner Golden Sugar Company. The sugar producer has leveraged the Global Markets Programme to inspire food safety culture within the factory walls and beyond. The full video, made possible by Orkin, is available now on GFSI Youtube.
Then, in a series of info-packed ‘lighting talks’, leaders from intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations offered insights they gathered from field work in underserved markets. Steve Wearne, Director of Global Affairs at the UK FSA and Vice-Chair of Codex Alimentarius, shared some of the work that Codex is undertaking to help governments implement their standards around the world. Those standards, he said ‘must not treat everyone equally but in an equitable way, because the starting points are not the same.’
Isabelle Mballa, Senior Regional Supply Chain Advisor of the UN World Food Programme, shed light on the operational intricacies (and headaches) involved in maintaining a safe food supply to some of the world’s most vulnerable people, including refugees and victims of famine. GFSI has helped her programme ensure that its suppliers are safe and reliable. Kristen MacNaughtan, Program Officer of the Agricultural Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, explained the impact that food safety has on her organisation’s efforts to improve the lives of farmers in underserved markets. ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re in a Hyatt hotel, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the field’, she said. ‘Food safety is connected.’
After the speakers left the stage, moderator Femi Oke led the audience in a warm-up round of applause, foot-stomping and cheering to open the fourth annual Global Markets Awards ceremony, a recognition of ‘small but ambitious’ companies that leverage the GFSI Global Markets Programme. Representatives from three of the four winning companies — Luna Export (Ethiopia), Alacor (Argentina) and Linya Smaku (Ukraine) — took the stage to receive their awards from GFSI Chair Mike Robach and Greenfence CEO Mitch Chait, whose organisation has sponsored the awards since they began in 2017. The fourth winner, Shanghai Mcvolf Food Co. (China), was represented in proxy by GFSI Senior Manager Anne Gerardi, sporting a Mcvolf-branded t-shirt.
‘These folks become the ambassadors of the Global Markets Programme’, said Mike. ‘They’re going to take this experience home with them … and energise folks to get in tune’. Read more about the four winning companies here.
The three concurrent breakout sessions that followed took a closer look at some of the issues facing food safety around the world, with an emphasis on regulatory perspectives and public-private partnerships. Speakers included leaders from the U.S. FDA, the World Trade Organisation, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, as well as representatives of industry and academia, illustrating the unique platform GFSI provides for cross-sector collaboration.
After a lunch break with time to network, peruse the bustling GFSI Village and take in a Tech Talk, the delegates reconvened for an afternoon plenary that turned the spotlight to the cutting-edge of food safety innovation. All five speakers were subject matter experts at Amazon, whose Seattle headquarters are conveniently located less than 15 kilometers from the conference venue.
Rather than preparing individual presentations, the Amazon tag team — Anthony Auffray, Director of Global Product Food Safety and Compliance, Fedor Zhdanov, Principle Applied Scientist of Amazon Web Services AI, Chance Kelch, Director of Product Management, Mingwei Shen, Manager of Machine Learning and Allison Jennings, Director of Food Safety and Compliance for North America — took turns telling the story behind the machine learning, AI, optical character recognition and natural language processing tools Amazon uses for food safety.
During his time at the mic, Chance repeated what he called ‘the one takeaway’ that delegates should bring home from the session. ‘Machine learning can only predict the tasks which you train it to do’, he said. ‘Just like the people in your organisation, you have to train them to perform well.’
Anthony, whose tenure at Amazon helped to usher in its current robust food safety programme, offered an equally valuable takeaway for food safety leaders: ‘Technology is not a hobby’, he said. ‘It requires bringing on full-time professionals as part of the team.’
For the first time at a GFSI Conference, the breakouts linked to Plenary 5 took the form of an interactive pitch contest, à la the popular programme Shark Tank. In three concurrent sessions, a total of nine innovators pitched their technological solutions to ‘sharks’ — food safety leaders from some of the world’s most prominent brands. Each pitch was followed by 12 minutes of clarifying questions from the sharks, complete with a count-down clock. The winning presenter, chosen by audience votes, will be announced during the closing plenary on Friday.
As the day draws to a close, delegates will cross Lake Washington to gather at the Fremont Foundry for this year’s official reception and dinner, sponsored by Greenfence. Once a hub for Seattle’s groundbreaking artist community, the venue will thrum with a new kind of creativity as delegates make connections, trade ideas and prove GFSI’s status as ‘the world’s biggest conversation for food safety’.