Global Food Safety Initiative: recent developments

7 September 2017

The Global Food Safety Initiative helps food companies make safety their number one priority. Ceri Jones reports on the outcomes of the initiative's latest conference held in February 2017, and the most recent developments in food safety.

Food safety should never be a differentiator or competitive tool, but a benchmark of continual progress that all companies strive for. This was one of the key messages voiced by Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Mondelez International, and Dave MacLennan, CEO of Cargill, at The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Global Food Safety Conference 2017.

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) was created with the aim of improving food-safety standards worldwide and streamlining disparate management systems. However, rather than present yet another accreditation for companies to strive to meet, GFSI instead provides a benchmark of best practice, helping companies work towards more streamlined and integrated regulations that are relevant to businesses and consumers worldwide.

Now in its 17th year, GFSI has grown enormously. This year’s annual conference was held in Houston, Texas, and attended by representatives from 63 different countries in a giant effort to forge real change on a huge scale. With the theme ‘leadership for growth’, compelling insights were provided by some of the most influential names in food manufacturing.

Joining the dots

“In terms of where we are today and our priorities going forward, I think the CEO of Wegmans Food Markets, Danny Wegman, summed it up brilliantly when speaking recently to a room of more than 1,000 CEOs at our Global Summit,” said Lisa Prevert, CGF communications manager. “In a nutshell, the trends we’re seeing are: one, a consensus that we need to advance global harmonisation through a common understanding of good food-safety requirements, and creating mutual trust and efficiencies throughout the supply chain.

“Two, an agreement that the industry must invest in capability-building for food operations with less-developed food-safety systems, such as GFSI’s Global Markets Programme. And three, an understanding that we need to work together to achieve food safety for consumers everywhere. More and more governments are joining the industry around the table to support these voluntary initiatives through GFSI.”

Worldwide harmonisation is the ultimate destination, but it is no mean feat, and many speakers highlighted the target markers along the way. For instance, Rosenfeld cast a spotlight on the challenge of modern consumers demanding improved products with simpler ingredients, which must be effectively delivered along a complex supply chain while ensuring safety at every stage. And John Myers, president and CEO of Rentokil North America, discussed the impact of digitalism and the internet of things on future practices. Meanwhile, Tom Hayes, CEO of Tyson Foods, considered how technology can be used to manage and mitigate risk.

Whether its adopting technologies or working collaboratively, the leaders of the food industry are coming together through unified values. But how does this translate to individual brands?

Milking it

“Naturally, Danone has been a member of GFSI since its creation and we’ve always been deeply invested in this initiative, contributing to, as well as benefitting from it,” said Frédéric René, Danone chief food safety officer and GFSI board member, in an article he wrote for The Consumer Goods Forum.

“In a locally focused company such as ours, food safety had to become independent from all other concerns in order to be able to get as far as scientifically possible, free of any conflict of interests. Separating food safety governance thus appeared to be the most efficient model for our company today. It’s our way to ensure that this non-negotiable policy will be implemented the same way absolutely everywhere,” he continued.

“Our new food safety governance means a standardised global policy and a local application. Since there is not one universal standard for food safety, Danone first respects local laws and regulations in the countries where it operates, and then implements its own standards. In the case of a conflict, the most stringent rule always applies. Our mission is to guarantee that Danone designs, produces, transports and distributes products that are 100% compliant with our standards, but also with our promise to deliver the best we can, always, everywhere.

“Our guidelines are largely based on the GFSI requirements, which provide great insights regarding best food safety practices. By 2020, we aim to be covering our whole value chain with comparable food safety indexes between all our businesses. We also set improvement goals in terms of certification and conformity, striving for excellence.”

Leader of the pack

In terms of how food safety values filter down in to real-world products, Danone’s Danonino Go! is a great example of development in the dairy sector. The yogurts come in freestanding pouches made of printed opaque plastic with an injection-moulded plastic spout set into the top edge of the flexible pack. For ease and aesthetics, the new cap is a wide elliptical fin that’s more accessible and secure than the former screw-fitted cap; it protects the yogurt, prevents spills or leaks, and children can serve themselves unassisted with no risk of choking on or losing the cap. Using this sealed flexible pack ensures that the yogurt remains fresh and in optimum condition for up to eight hours after removing from the fridge, and as it can be consumed straight from the pack there’s no chance of outside contamination.

Stepping away from GFSI for a moment, a further example of innovation in packaging security is South Korea’s Sempio, which released its Ilpyeondansim whole-perilla seed oil in a convenient double-walled ‘bag-in-a-bottle’ pack. The oil is held in an airtight plastic bag that is tucked inside an extrusion blow-moulded plastic squeezy bottle. The bottle has a small aperture holding a plastic valve that allows air to enter the bottle as it is squeezed. It has an injection-moulded plastic fliptop lid and pour spout. A moulded node under the lid seals off the dispensing aperture, while a silicon-type valve on the inside of the closure regulates product flow.

As the bottle is squeezed, pressure causes the valve to move slightly, opening the aperture to allow a small amount of air to enter the cavity between the outer bottle and the inner bag. As the oil is used up and the bag becomes empty, it collapses and almost every drop of oil can be dispensed. A printed shrink-wrap ensures that from the outside it appears as a standard pouring bottle, but inside, the unique double-wall protects the delicate oil from sunlight damage and oxidation.

Safety as standard

Companies are keen to show their commitment to the future of food safety practices, and US major food brand and GFSI member General Mills boldly said, “Whatever the innovation, food safety is our top priority.” Laura Knutson, General Mills’ corporate communications associate said, “We’re continually innovating our products to meet consumer expectations and global sustainability goals. Leading with safety – that of our employees in the workplace, and the food we make – is one of the key operating principles that guides our work and our culture. Today, 80% of our company-owned facilities are Global Food Safety Initiative-certified, and our goal is to achieve 100% by 2020.”

A clear indicator of the company’s commitment to food safety is the recorded $16 million spent on food safety-related costs in 2016, a $3 million increase on the previous year. General Mills also marked 8% of capital investment in 2016 for projects related to food safety.

“Our standards are the same in developing countries, though the food safety challenges vary widely across locations,” states the company’s 2017 Global Responsibility Report. “We tailor training accordingly, building capacity to ensure globally harmonised food safety standards. The GFSI certification of General Mills’ facilities is an additional assurance that our existing food safety systems continue to improve. General Mills works with many industry consortia, governments and agencies to encourage new knowledge, and freely shares outcomes to help raise standards across the industry.”

Meanwhile, Julia Tiemann, PR manager of fellow GFSI member Dr. Oetker said that packaging plays a key role in the company’s approach to food-safety standards. “For Dr. Oetker,” she said, “Product quality and product safety have top priority. The digital transformation of the economy is on the advance in all areas around the globe and this also applies to the food industry. We must face this issue now, so that we can be as successful in the future as we are today. We need to examine in depth the processes in all areas of the company in order to identify possibilities and opportunities for the use of digital technologies for communication between human being, machine and product, which is the definition of industry 4.0.”

Getting technical

Technology is having a strong impact upon production techniques and, not stopping at knowledge sharing with the food industry, Tetra Pak is uncovering how innovations in other industries can be inspirational. In his report titled ‘The Frontiers of Food Quality’, Alexander Bromage, Tetra Pak business manager, food quality and safety services, throws a spotlight on how the pursuit of food quality is improving food safety.

“Food-quality specialists are using sophisticated technology to design tools and techniques that they can use to add objectivity to the measurement of characteristics such as taste, smell and texture,” Bromage said. “These hold the prospect of significant improvements in the specification and maintenance of consistent and repeatable quality standards in food-manufacturing processes.”

According to Bromage, the food industry is trialling several existing technologies to learn how they can be adapted to specific food safety needs; for instance, liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. “Liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry have been adopted by the Association of Analytical Communities for the analysis of vitamin D, and research is under way to measure the presence of other vitamins in various nutrients and supplements,” Bromage explained. “They have also standardised approaches developed by the US Food & Drugs Administration to reliably test for more than 300 pesticides in fruits, vegetables and grains.”

Also, there is hyperspectral imaging that works on the principle that molecules absorb and reflect light at specific wavelengths, so using it to scan a sample would indicate exactly what molecules are present and in what quantities. “As food characteristics such as ripeness, nutritional levels and bacterial contamination can be deduced from the presence of molecules,” said Bromage, “hyperspectral imaging could offer further opportunities for the application of technology to deliver objective food-quality measurement. For instance, it could be used to determine the levels of starch and sugar in potatoes, and therefore determine the best use for the potato. High-starch potatoes are crumbly, so are perfect for mashed potato, whereas low-starch potatoes are firmer and better for salads.”

Finally, there is raman imaging, a form of spectroscopic analysis used in the pharmaceutical industry. Raman imaging enables the user to ‘fingerprint’ samples; frequency and rotational responses allow the tester to identify chemicals present and their behaviours for a precise chemical analysis. Bromage said, “It provides a rapid, non-destructive food-quality measurement technique that in early work has been proved to offer a reliable way to find the presence of adulterants, contaminants and pesticides. Early studies are giving promising results, and raman imaging would seem to offer the prospect of becoming a powerful new food-quality surveillance technique.”

Whether or not these highly technical tools ever enter the commercial food production market, the research and progress being made is a positive marker of a strong commitment at every level, commitment that is much-needed to ensure that the world’s growing population has access to safe and delicious foods. As Leanne Chuboff of the Safe Quality Food Institute said at the Global Food Safety Conference, when it comes to safety, “human behaviour and food are two significant variables that will not let this issue simply go away”.

The Global Food Safety Initiative strives to improve food-safety standards worldwide.

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