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Company commitments to food safety must come from the very top.

Danny Wegman, CEO of US retail giant Wegmans, presented on the importance of food safety to more than 800 other consumer goods industry CEOs at last month’s CGF Global Summit in Cape Town. Organised by The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), the Global Summit is the industry’s annual flagship event, with the 2016 edition focused on seizing opportunities in the face of disruption.

During his talk, Wegman emphasised the need for the commitment to food safety to come from the very top of the company. Wegman, CGF co-sponsor to the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) was also joined by Mike Robach, VP Corporate Food Safety at Cargill, and Chair of the GFSI Board.

  

Take a Global View to Food Safety to Better Understand the Issues

During his presentation, titled ‘Food Safety: Global View for A Global Issue’, Wegman said people all over the world both enjoyed fresh food and were concerned about their health. He said the one big disruption in the system came from pathogens. And, to highlight this real concern, he showed a film in which a New Jersey woman described the fatal effects of listeria on her unborn child, and related the account of a customer who had been hospitalised with suspected E. coli.

By owning their own organic farm, Wegmans understood the challenges of operating properly and the costs of compliance. It also allowed them to talk to other suppliers with credibility. Wegmans had been investing in food safety since 1998, basing HACCP processes on a solid retailing operations base. Establishing a solid food safety culture required significant and continuing commitment by the CEO and senior leadership, and food safety experts acting as coaches rather than as the police.

Wegman said his family had been involved with food safety for many years. The food industry was made up of a combination of large and small companies, but the challenge faced by the industry – represented by Global Food Safety Initiative – was to bring all of these players together acting in common. In discussion with Mike Robach, Wegman stressed that safety was not a competitive issue; it was in everyone’s interests to share best practices.

Robach agreed that it was pre-competitive and observed that 25 years ago, the ground beef producers of the United States got together to fight E. Coli after the Jack in the Box outbreak. Cargill now had a line of specially-treated beef marketed through Wegmans that could safely be eaten raw. Wegman said that, ultimately, customers wanted to know the truth. Telling them explicitly to cook ordinary ground beef to 160 degrees Fahrenheit to make it safe actually increased sales.

  

Mitigate Food Safety Risks through Organisations like GFSI

Robach went on to say that GFSI’s operations across multiple borders, based on sound science, allowed Cargill to ensure their factories and customers operated with safe practices. The manual they had produced could be used by anyone, anywhere and was available for systematic, progressive implementation. Wegman then stressed that one reason for participating in GFSI was the range of risk involved, which could be better understood and addressed through organisations like the CGF and GFSI. He said that fresh produce was really important for people’s health, but it was also potentially very risky because there was no kill step in the food chain.

Robach added that governments around the world were aware how closely the food business had worked together globally and were beginning to realise there was something in this for them as well. They had an obligation to provide oversight, which GFSI members respected, but equally they should make sure their oversight systems were based on the same goals and principles. That in turn would greatly enhance freedom to operate. Just last month, GFSI had signed an agreement with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization for better co-ordinated content and delivery of training programmes for food safety.

 

The Global Summit is exclusively reserved for members of The Consumer Goods Forum. It is the global event for retailers, manufacturers and their suppliers; it is the essential destination for successful business leaders in our sector; it is where CEOs talk to CEOs with additional input from experts and specialists; it is the forum to voice the key issues and challenges facing our industry now and in the future; it is the place where the global agenda for the consumer goods sector is set; it is where the responses to previously set challenges are shared; and it is the event you must attend if your future is in this vital and global industry.

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