Dispatches from GFSC 2016 in Berlin

Not always logical to say: 'Here are rules now go and implement them'

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: GFSI/Flickr. Mike Robach (left) incoming chairman of the board and John Carter in Berlin
Picture: GFSI/Flickr. Mike Robach (left) incoming chairman of the board and John Carter in Berlin
It is not always logical to say ‘here are the rules now go and implement them’ when trying to manage food safety, according to a former Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) board member.

John Carter, speaking before stepping down from the board, said it needs pragmatic input from the people who have to use the requirements or processes being discussed.

“I think the GFSI board looking at global food safety, comprised of manufacturers and retailers, are not the areas where the problems are,” ​he told us at the GFSI conference in Berlin.

“For me the problems in food safety are at the edges, the small farms upstream and the small restaurants and caterers downstream. In order to bring those guys into the GFSI umbrella you need to have input from them,” ​said the VP of Quality and Sustainability Dairy at Danone.

“For example, if you look at the technical working group on food service that is really trying to articulate the ways you would manage food safety anywhere from [a hotel] through to someone like McDonalds or KFC through to a street vendor in India and how to bring those inputs so you have a step change in food safety awareness and behaviour and hygiene awareness everywhere.”

GFSI: How does it work?

The former VP of Metro Group in Germany said the fact that GFSI has partnerships with governments, scheme owners and certification bodies is critical to its functioning.

“If you focus on just the audit process, which is where GFSI originally comes from, you can see there is a very strong structure for that part of it.

“There is a certification body who sends an auditor, that person audits the plant of a company, they deliver a report according to a scheme which is benchmarked within GFSI and then that is part of a piece of information that can be used by governments or companies or whoever to look at a snapshot of food safety within a particular site.”

Carter said areas such as the harmonisation of standards were also an important part.

“For me, it is very important that GFSI is not only thinking about the mechanics of auditing, it should be about challenging the way that the industry thinks about the future of food safety to ensure consumer protection.”

What does ‘big data’ mean for me?

Carter said he liked the idea of ‘big data’ but what matters is what it means to him.

“I like the idea of the fact we can know everything about everything and I like the idea that you can use some kind of tool to interrogate information in the cloud to give you the real time picture of food safety on your dashboard whenever you want,” ​he said. 

“However, I have no clue how that works and I don’t know what big data is as I am not technical in that way. I strongly believe however it doesn’t really matter, what I want to know is how to use it.

"What it means ​for me in terms of the way that the company is set-up and I think if you look at what we’re talking about now with lot of inputs and outputs and look at something like personalization of product you don’t actually have an SKU anymore, you don’t have an article anymore, you can make millions of pots of yoghurt with different names on them.

“So what is an SKU, how do you measure that from a business perspective so I think with big data, social media and other inputs we need to rethink the way we do business.”

Carter said he had joined Danone four weeks ago and told his new team to go to the conference to ‘experience the GFSI conference, to listen to what is presented and then to think what they means for us, not to take any concrete actions but be inspired by some of the potential possibilities’.

GFSI and UNIDO cooperation

Meanwhile, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the GFSI have entered into a formal strategic partnership for large-scale capacity building programmes.

UNIDO said food safety is a key thematic area in its inclusive and sustainable industrial development initiative (ISID) where partnership with the private sector is key.

It builds on collaborations between GFSI and UNIDO since 2009, and follows the sustainable supplier development project (SSDP) implemented in Malaysia thanks to UNIDO and AEON, also based on GFSI Global Markets.

A roadmap is being crafted to implement food safety capacity building projects in a number of countries based on the GFSI Global Markets Programme.

The programme will focus on key regions in the global food network, beginning with China, Africa, Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Milestones and timelines will be formalised in a Memorandum of Understanding ahead of the Consumer Goods Forum Global Summit in South Africa in June 2016.

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