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ATLANTA, 25 April 2023 — More than 700 food industry stakeholders from some 50 countries gathered today in Georgia’s state capital for the 22nd annual GFSI Conference, the industry’s premier event to advance global food safety. 

Under the theme: ”Delivering Safe Food in Turbulent Times: The Need for Agility & Resilience” the three-day event focused on how the industry responds to the economic and political impact on food safety and security around the world in the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic and the situation in Ukraine.

Speeding up the ‘Race to the Top’

Opening remarks by GFSI Director Erica Sheward and Consumer Goods Forum Managing Director Wai-Chan Chan emphasised how the coalition and its parent body press on to adapt to better serve people in a rapidly changing world. 

“CGF has transitioned from being a think tank to what I call a do tank,” Chan said. “I’m proud that we’re moving forward, but I’ll be even prouder in a few years’ time when we start to implement things.”

Sheward gave a clear picture of the Coalition’s recent shifts. “The GFSI of old is gone and is never coming back,” she declared, pointing to recent improvements in transparency and governance and progress made fulfil the Race to the Top agenda.

She noted: “For those of you who still feel inclined to act to thwart our progress, we ask you to reconsider whether you really have the interests of food safety at heart.”

The Race to the Top framework, designed to drive continuous improvement in GFSI and the food safety system, gave fodder to Day 1 debate. A recorded address from Dirk Van de Put, chairman and CEO of Mondelēz International, invited delegates to “a week of shared learning as we redouble our efforts to deliver our Race to the Top agenda dedicated to improving trust and confidence in the vital work GFSI does in harmonising food safety standards, improving food safety capabilities and supporting food safety regulators.” 

Morning keynote speech Dr. Julian M. Cox, Honorary Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales, echoed this unapologetic approach. Headlined under “Law and Order: Food Safety,” Cox  compared food poisoning to manslaughter and argued that all actors “from farm to fork, paddock to plate, meadow to mouth or crop to chopsticks” hold a responsibility to prevent it. He also set the tone for the conference’s science- and evidence-based focus, sharing data on Salmonella and E. coli from his doctoral  students as well as technological breakthroughs to combat these pathogens. He noted: “Here in 2023, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we see a better food safety future.

Spotlight on top priorities 

After a break held in the Exhibition Hall — home to the Presentation Theatre and its interactive Tech Talks and Ask GFSI Sessions — delegates reconvened for concurrent special sessions and breakouts. Conferees were spoiled for choice as breakouts followed three parallel tracks devoted to GFSI’s key priorities: Benchmarking & Harmonisation, Capability Building and Public-Private Partnerships Collaboration. 

A candid exchange among GFSI Steering Committee members took place during the first block of breakouts. The group tackled challenges and opportunities now placed before the organisation. More than half of the committee’s 22 members took part among the three sessions. 

The second breakout block gave the floor to the Science & Technology Advisory Group and the Local Groups, volunteer bodies that support GFSI’s priorities around science-based decisions and local implementation. Following the Benchmarking & Harmonisation and Public-Private Partnerships Collaboration tracks, the two sessions shared some of the on-the-ground work that members have undertaken to promote food safety in their various fields and locations. While presenting on specific case studies and research projects, expert speakers kept their gaze on the industry-wide, global perspective of the conference. 

Prior to Day 1, conference attendees took part yesterday in ‘Discovery Tours’ in Atlanta, giving an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at a Kroger retail site as well as a journey through the World of Coca-Cola. 

Day 2 of the three-day conference happens tomorrow with a full slate of sessions. The conference ends on Thursday.

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