Key takeaways from GFSI’s Global Food Safety Conference

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Globally harmonized food safety standards are now a reality of the food business. Although there are variations between several key standards, we have come a long way in moving food safety forward and protecting the health of consumers in this area.

The Global Food Safety Initiative’s (GFSI) annual Global Food Safety Conference is a gathering where the world’s best and brightest minds in food safety, standards, and technology come together with business leaders to share research and ideas, discuss supply chain protection, and unveil the latest advancements in the food safety arena.

Rentokil’s parent company, Rentokil Initial, was proud to serve as a Diamond Sponsor at this year’s Global Food Safety Conference, and I was honored to take part in a special session our companies gave to attendees.

Attending the conference also gave me the ability to attend other experts’ presentations and hear about the latest technologies and exciting progress being made across the food safety spectrum. For those of you who couldn’t be with us in Tokyo, here are my five key takeaways from the 2018 Global Food Safety Conference.

Traceability

Traceability has always been a sticky wicket for the food industry. As our global supply chain continues to grow, being able to identify where food components have come from and know all points in their journey along the chain is becoming increasingly important in preventing illness, protecting against food fraud, and removing potentially contaminated foods from consumer reach.

As technologies like blockchain continue to be developed for use across the supply chain, tracing products or even individual ingredients in a product to their source, and identifying potential risk points along the supply chain becomes easier to do.

For food producers, this means foods can be traced back to the exact point of origin, increasing the importance of documenting your food safety efforts and quality controls, including pest management. Do you have complete transparency over your pest management programs? If asked, would you be able to substantiate a risk-based pest management program and all the actions taken as part of your program? Consider using an online pest management data management system like Rentokil’s PestNetOnline program to do this.

Sustainability

Sustainability was a buzz word at GFSI this year, with groups discussing sustainability across the spectrum. Increasing concerns about food waste, in particular, are driving food manufacturers, restaurants, and grocery stores to re-examine their processes. But sustainability practices are also playing into the consumer demand for healthier, cleaner food, and food manufacturers are doing their part to ensure that food meets that demand.

From a pest management perspective, the move toward solutions that monitor for pest activity around the clock helps businesses have a real-time view of their product safety. It also means that pest control providers can pinpoint exactly when and where problems exist and provided targeted treatments – instead of broadscale, scheduled, pesticide applications. With this type of accuracy and catching problems before they turn into infestations, environmentally responsible pest control companies can often offer recommendations for physical and corrective actions that don’t involve pesticides.

Auditor competency

There was quite a bit of discussion among attendees and presenters at the conference this year around auditor competency. Objective, fair, and consistent audits are critical to ensuring that all facilities are measured by the same standards.

Ensuring that all supply chain-level auditors have the qualifications and knowledge to conduct audits is critical to ensure that the entire global supply chain produces foods that are safe for consumption and food packaging that protects products from abuse and tampering.

As such, GFSI is launching a new auditor certification exam. All Certified Programme Owners (CPOs) have nine months to incorporate this new exam into their processes and three years to ensure their auditors achieve certification.

Food fraud

Food fraud was a hot topic at the conference. What is food fraud, you ask? According to the National Center for Food Protection and Defense at Michigan State University, food fraud “is a collective term used to encompass the deliberate and intentional substitution, addition, tampering, or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients, or food packaging; or false or misleading statements made about a product, for economic gain.”

Food fraud is happening at an alarming rate in countries around the globe, and many discussions at the conference centered around how to prevent and stop it. Blockchain technology may help reduce the amount of food fraud over time as it is implemented in the supply chain, but industry leaders are focusing on solutions that can be put into place right now.

New creative foods and foods grown in non-agricultural settings

Some of us are old enough to remember watching the Jetsons, a cartoon that envisioned what future life might be like living in space. Some of the things that seemed like pie-in-the-sky in that cartoon are now coming to life here on earth – and a few were on display and being discussed at the conference. Specifically, foods being developed outside of traditional farm growth or animal production.

Like cultured and lab-grown meat. Yes, you read that right.

It might seem unimaginable, but it could become a necessity. Animals that we consume, such as cows and pigs, take considerable environmental resources to raise: they eat enormous amounts of food, guzzle water, and more. As the world’s population has increased, it has made for heavier demand for these animals, and put strain on the environment. Land for farming and traditional livestock and agriculture production is becoming more scarce. In addition, climate change may make some land used for these things now unusable in the future. Finally, humans have grown increasingly concerned with animal welfare.

These lab-cultured and grown products are different from hotly debated genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, which are foods where we alter the genetics of the food to develop a specific trait, like insect resistance.

Instead, these lab-grown foods are started from a small group of cells, cultured from meat tissue, and then cared for in a lab and grown into food that tastes, feels, and looks like the foods we eat today – because technically, they ARE the foods we eat today. In theory, we could produce an abundance of food from a small, minimal stock of animals.

There’s still a long way to go in this emerging industry, and a host of research to be done. But it certainly is interesting to discuss and think about the implications this may have for pest management. Our industry needs to keep up with how food is being grown and made so that we can evaluate the pest risks and develop pest management plans to address them.

In closing

Most food producers around the world are not parts of giant, global companies with vast resources for staying ahead in our fast-changing world. In fact, 90 percent are what GFSI calls SMEs – small to medium enterprises.

It remains important for those of us who participate in these global conferences to share what we’ve learned to help the collective industry produce safer, high-quality foods. These are just my individual insights, but I encourage you to explore more takeaways from the conference on the Consumer Goods Forum’s blog.

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