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GFSI 2014 PREVIEW

Walmart: Food safety awareness at ‘an all-time high’

By Jenni Spinner+

17-Feb-2014
Last updated the 17-Feb-2014 at 12:07 GMT

As the world's largest food safety, Walmart has a significant stake in the safety of the global food supply.
As the world's largest food safety, Walmart has a significant stake in the safety of the global food supply.

The food safety guru of the world’s largest retailer told FoodProductionDaily the 2014 Global Food Safety Conference comes at a time when food safety concerns are at a pinnacle.

Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for Walmart, said the issue of food safety is more on people’s minds than it ever has been before.

Food safety awareness is, without question, at an all-time high,” Yiannas said. “Consumers are more concerned, and food safety related issues are more top of mind with producers, than they ever have been.”

The GFSC, backed by the Global Safe Food Initiative (GFSI), is a three-day event that brings together food growers, processing firms, retailers, and food safety scientists to hammer out common challenges.

'We're in a race'

One of those challenges, Yiannas explained, is to meet the expectations of a consuming public that is savvier about food safety issues than consumers of yore.

The food supply is safer than it’s ever been before, but we’re in a race between public awareness and incident prevention,” he said. “Events like this are important because they bring stakeholders together—growers, manufacturers, foodservice professionals, retailers—as a group, to solve problems, rather than leaving us to puzzle them out on our own.”

Yiannas told FPD that the modern food system has evolved significantly in recent years. As food production has shifted from local family farms to larger, sometimes multinational, providers, the importance of shared food safety knowledge has grown.

Food production is a lot more complex, and more of a shared responsibility, than ever before,” he said.

Global safety issues

Yiannas has been the GFSI program committee chair for the past three years. He admits he might be a bit biased about the quality of this particular program, but he told FPD he firmly believes this food safety conference (which expects more than 1000 top-level food safety professionals from approximately 60 different countries) stands out among the crowd.

I’m firmly convinced that this has become the one must-attend food safety event,” he said. “Members and attendees think so, too.”

The theme of the 2014 event is “One World, One Safe Food Supply.” Yiannas explained the theme is fitting, because the food supply in one part of the world is just as vulnerable as it is in other parts of the globe.

If contamination exists somewhere, it can exist anywhere,” he advised.

Program highlights

Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety, Walmart

Frank Yiannas, Walmart

While it’s difficult to single out any one program feature as the best of the best, Yiannas said, there are a few sessions worth highlighting.

Yiannis himself will moderate “Food Safety Insanity,” a late afternoon session on Thursday, February 27. The panel features representatives from Fonterra, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sharing lessons in incident management.

Some outbreaks happen over and over again—we’ve seen repeated incidents with cantaloupe, peanut butter, and fresh greens, for example, in the US and abroad,” Yiannas said. “We’re trying to figure out how we collectively can get better at learning from these experiences.”

Yiannas also pointed to the Thursday afternoon session entitled “Global Food Safety Cultures.”

Speakers from around the world will come and share advice on how to influence and change food safety behavior,” he said. “In some parts of the world, consumers and food workers might not have refrigerators or other resources we take for granted, and we’re adapting to these cultural differences.”

Yiannas also singled out a session on Wednesday, February 26, entitled “The Future of Private/Public Collaboration. Speakers (including Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the US Food and Drug Administration) will provide examples on how such collaborations bring about change, and how they’re shifting the “paradigm for advancement,” Yiannas said.

The GFSC takes place from February 26-28 in Anaheim, California. For more information, visit the conference website at tcgffoodsafety.com.

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