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Since the beginning of the pandemic, the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in all aspects of daily lives has unquestionably skyrocketed. With the difficulties of conducting face-to-face audits, GFSI has addressed the efficacy of ICT for food safety audits.

In the spring, GFSI introduced new Benchmarking Requirements providing a framework for the use of ICT by GFSI-recognised CPOs. Along with this change, we launched a Working Group of academic experts to provide an independent review of the evidence regarding the use of ICT during food safety audits as a means of verifying compliance of the audited organisation and its food safety practices.

GFSI’s Senior Technical Manager Marie-Claude Quentin, who has led this work, speaks to Alan Gillies, Chair of the ICT Expert Panel in this interview. Listen to the interview or read the transcript below. If you have experience in this area, please consult GFSI’s Call for Evidence to learn how you can participate.


Marie-Claude: Good morning Alan! You are the chair of the ICT Expert Panel. It’s a group of experts who is looking at the use of technologies in audits. Could you please tell us who is in this group?

Alan: Thank you very much. Yes. Well, we have a group of six experts from around the world. We have three who are food specialists. We have Hajime Toyofuku, who’s a food scientist from Yamaguchi University in Japan. We have Bernd Van der Meulen, who’s an expert in food law and he’s based in the Netherlands. And then we have Wendy White from the Georgia Institute of Technology. That’s half the group.

The other half of the group is made of people with complementary expertise. We’ve got Srikanth Mangalam from Canada – from Mississauga just outside Toronto – who runs the Prism Institute, which is about providing risk management solutions for the industry. And then we’ve got John Howard from the UK who has a background as a special care baby nurse, which means he is immersed in safety issues, but more recently has worked on the training and capacities needed to support the use of technology and also has 20 years’ experience running an online course requiring communication with people remotely. Then there’s myself, Alan Gillies, who’s been a professor for a very long time and my expertise is around information management and how to use technology effectively.

Marie-Claude: All right, thank you. That sounds like a very, very good group. And could you tell us what you are doing, what’s your mandate and what activities are you carrying out?

Alan: Okay, thank you. Well, we had three points to the mandate from GFSI. The first one was to review the evidence that’s available as to the efficacy of food safety audits when they are carried out remotely using this kind of technology, instead of on-site visits and that’s obviously a response to the issues around the pandemic and the difficulties on face-to-face visits. But we also want to look at the different ways that we can use ICT. Because there’s a feeling that this is the way that things are going. But I think it’s important that we focus on how we use the technology to make sure that it is effective and we’re getting the best from it. And finally, the third area we need to look at is the criteria that GFSI might adopt to decide whether in the future as new technologies come along, it is indeed safe to replace face-to-face visits with other ways of inspecting food safety.

Marie-Claude: And how can people get involved and support your work?

Alan: Well, we’re particularly interested in hearing from people’s experiences – obviously during the pandemic that there will be people who have gained new experiences of using technology for food safety audits and so on. We’re really interested in hearing people’s experiences. We’re particularly interested in any evaluation work that people might have. We’re interested in hearing about the barriers that have made things difficult, particularly perhaps in in areas where access to technology is not so easily available. And we hope that we get a lot from the industry. Because the academic evidence relating to recent experience will not yet be out there because there isn’t time for it to have been assessed and peer reviewed so it’s really important that we capture people’s experiences from recent times.

Marie-Claude: I’ve got one last question actually. Alan you just mentioned that peer-reviewed evidence of recent usage of ICT in audits is not available yet because obviously, it hasn’t been reviewed. So what sort of evidence are you looking at, in lieu of evidence in food safety audits.

Alan: Okay, so we’re doing a number of things. One is that we’re looking for experiences from other areas. So we’re looking at Healthcare, Safety-based industries and other areas where there are some studies. We’re also looking at the evidence around new technologies. I found over 300 peer-reviewed articles, for example, describing technologies that can be used to monitor different aspects of food safety technologies. So there is evidence out there for us to look at, but the specific area of food safety inspections is the area where I think we need the most help from other people because that’s the area where there seems to be a dearth of some more traditional academic sources.

Marie-Claude: And so if people not from the food industry are listening to this recording today they are very welcome to share their experience with you, even though they actually not working in the food industry.

Alan: Oh, absolutely. Some of the most interesting conversations in the group so far have been from some of the members pointing out some of the related work, not in food, but that’s relevant to the to the food industry. So yes, we’re particularly interested to hear from anybody with that kind of experience.

Marie-Claude: Well, thank you very much. And it’s been great to have an insight into the work of that group.

Alan: Thank you.

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