ATLANTA, 27 April 2023 — Now more than ever, people tackling food safety need to find new ways to reach the mission of ‘safe food for everybody’, agreed global food safety experts and policymakers on the third and final day of the GFSI conference in Atlanta.
Top food industry leaders, technology experts, and policy makers took to the stage at the 22nd annual GFSI Conference to take a deep dive into breakthrough approaches to build out food safety capability all along the supply chain. Technology will play a big role.
Keynote speaker Douglas Gayeton, co-founder and chief investigator of The Lexicon, shared his work on Foodicons, an open-source package of icons that help explain key terms and principles that define global food systems. Icons can be consensus tools and provide a common language that “give people a greater understanding of why certifications matter, why trust matters.”
Building the Public-Private Bridge
Under the theme “Delivering Safe Food in Turbulent Times: The Need for Agility & Resilience”, the third day further drilled down into creating greater links between stakeholders such as policy makers, academics and food safety leaders from national, regional and international regulatory bodies.
Their presentations highlighted GFSI’s unique opportunity to serve as a bridge between the public and private sectors such as through the acknowledgment of publically owned and operated standards. “At the end of the day, we’re all striving for safety. We need to work together,” said Ken Petersen, associate deputy administrator of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, during today’s breakout on the topic.
The public-private theme was further highlighted by the new memorandum of understanding between GFSI and USAID announced yesterday. The MoU builds upon seven years of collaboration and states that USAID will support GFSI in developing its capability-building framework for less-developed food business operators worldwide — especially in Africa. “Africa has an enormous potential for economic growth, and this is growth that can really lift people out of poverty and help lessen chronic food insecurity and malnutrition,” said Keith Dokho, private sector engagement secretariat lead for USAID.
Relatedly, a morning breakout gave stakeholders a look at the future, where digital tools employed will help companies along the value chain improve food safety through a new pathway to certification. The work will form part of the GFSI-USAID partnership announced during the conference. Both the GFSI Capacity Building Framework and just-announced Global Markets Programme will play big parts, according to panellist Kelley Cormier of USAID, Erica Sheward of GFSI, Mars Inc.’s Mick McDonald and Cliona Murphy of PepsiCo. Separately, Steve Wearne of the UK Food Standards Agency and the Codex Alimentarius Commission was sanguine about the Global Markets Programme transition and how it gives “the focus for our further, future collaboration between GFSI and Codex.”
Collaborating With Science and Academia
In response to feedback in Barcelona, we have incorporated more technical content at this year’s event. Doing so helped participants dig further into the latest issues facing the food safety world, with scientists and academics leading food safety advancements giving their findings. Erica Sheward said: “Technical presentations hold a larger role in the programme, reflecting GFSI’s commitment to science-based decision-making.”
Dr. Julian M. Cox of the University of New South Wales, an acclaimed “food safety rock star”, gave the first keynote on day 1, presented advancements in food safety science as well as a stirring call to action for the food industry. “Coming forward to where we are now, we have the chance to put foodborne disease to bed,” he said, pointing to developments in microbiology and other technologies that make this possible. “It’s not going to be free, it’s not going to be easy, but we should all have that commitment.”
Other technical experts presented on topics including allergen risk assessment, how Big Data can improve horizon scanning for pathogens, animal-health methods for preventing salmonellosis, and drones to assist agricultural audits. The Exhibition Hall and Presentation Theatre, home to the interactive Tech Talks, offered further opportunities to discover scientific and technological advancements in food safety, production and retail.
GFSI and food safety: an unstoppable future ahead
GFSI announced during the conference three new Steering Committee members: Cindy Jenks of Pick n Pay, Deann Akins-Lewenthal of Mondelez International, and Mary Weaver of YUM! Brands. In addition, former Steering Committee Co-Chair Roy Kirby was honoured with a plaque thanking him for his outstanding leadership on the GFSI Steering Committee.
The final plenary closed with words from Erica Sheward, who urged all in attendance to grab hold of the power of storytelling and message-making to “bring people together behind a common purpose, to educate and grow.”
Urging the audience to take home this message, she added: “It has never been more important that GFSI takes decisive action to fulfil its purpose and mission of safe food for people everywhere. Nothing can stop us.”
Join us at the next GFSI Conference in 2024 in Singapore and be part of the next chapter in the story.