This week, GFSI hosted the first Focus Day in Canada in partnership with the 7th Annual Maple Leaf Food Safety Symposium. Nearly 400 food safety professionals came together from across Canada for the event. The symposium was a testament to both the large and small companies driving GFSI and the adoption of food safety management systems in Canada, just as the country implements a new food safety law.
During his opening remarks, Maple Leaf Food CEO Michael McCain set the tone for the highly-successful event by announcing that the Company would require all of its protein, ingredient and packaging suppliers to become food safety certified to a Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standard in 2017. Executives from other Canadian food companies, some large, many small, then openly shared their GFSI journeys, highlighting the hurdles they overcame and their recommendations for others following in their footsteps.
The critical need to engage food companies of all sizes in GFSI and, in particular, to enable medium and small business to adopt food safety management systems to ensure "Safe food for consumers everywhere."
The talks revealed the critical importance of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the global supply chain as well as their role in driving exciting growth in the industry. There are large global players in the food industry, but the majority of the food supply comes from local SMEs.
The programme walked these players through how to become certified against a GFSI-recognised scheme, how to grow their business and become vibrant players in the local, regional and global food chain. It showed how to become certified in a world where being certified with a GFSI-benchmarked scheme is the entry way to market growth and opportunity.
The Focus Day was a real mix of both large companies who have invested in GFSI, who have affirmed their brands and demonstrated the safety of their global food networks, and medium and small suppliers. The two partnered to say “we can raise the bar together.” In the panel “Canadian Success Stories”, buying companies and their suppliers formed pairs to present a case study – their food safety journey with GFSI. See the presentations.
Shannon Nguyen from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) provided examples of working with many small Ontario food companies. The panel participants were very open and transparent with their learnings and the great candor in these talks was greatly appreciated by the audience. In his closing speech, Randy Huffman of Maple Leaf Foods applauded these participants for not stepping away from the challenge of raising the bar.
What also shone through is the partnership that was evident between the customer and the supplier to ensure the success of implementation. We often talk about the GFSI journey. This journey is often initiated when a buying company asks their supplier to become certified. Oftentimes it i’s a small or medium-size enterprise who needs to lean on the greater training resources and staff of a larger company. It is precisely that synergy and that back and forth collaboration that makes the GFSI journey what it is.
Moving from managing food safety crises after the fact to preventing them altogether and increasing consumer trust
A second key theme that emerged was that of moving from reaction to prevention. If we want to increase consumer trust, we can no longer react to food safety incidences; we have to prevent them altogether. We operate in a zero tolerance environment while food safety systems are becoming far more complex and global than ever before.
Many dynamics are changing the market place, making the supply chain phenomenally diverse and complex. We used to move products across borders; today we move ingredients across borders. Food companies operate within provinces, across Canada and globally with varying levels of food safety knowledge and management practices. The increased touchpoints creates increased opportunities for contamination and increased risk.
Dr. David Acheson spoke strongly about this need to be proactive and not reactive. He shared insights on how to adopt a risk-based approach and how to understand the challenges we face. His talk delved into the major risks: operational risk, legal risks and reputational risks. On this last one, he talked about the shift in consumer influence over brand reputation saying that a company is now more likely to be put out of business by consumers than by government.
He gave an overview of the Risk Maturity Model – Good, Better, Best and how those levels compare to regulatory requirements. “Food safety professionals have one of the toughest jobs on the planet,” he said. “Anything can get us in trouble, and bad things can happen to good companies. To me, the GFSI is all about moving from reactive to preventive. It’s about establishing the systems to do prevention 365 days a year.”
Recognising that strength sometimes comes through adversity – and Maple Leaf Foods story.
Maple Leaf Foods is one of the premier food companies in North America and their leadership in hosting this event and in turning a food safety incident into the growth and the brand they are today is a real testament to the company. Strength comes from adversity and the fact that Maple Leaf Foods are committed to hosting this food safety conversation with seven consecutive years of the Symposium already under their belt, is a great example of the leadership they have shown.
The audience was able to hear the Maple Leaf Foods success story from the CEO Michael McCain and Randy Huffman, Senior Vice President of Operations and Chief Food Safety Officer. Michael McCain used this opportunity to make a big announcement about a new commitment to food safety by Maple Leaf Foods. See the Press Release.
Above all, this shows that food safety is in the C-suite and is understood as critically important from a business perspective, which ties in beautifully to takeaway #4: bringing food safety to the C-suite.
Bringing food safety to the C-suite helps to raise overall corporate performance.
The need to ensure the involvement of the C-suite of a company emerged as a key call to action in the event. Too often, food safety is a cloister in the back of the technical building and more than one speaker pointed to lack of coherence on the responsibility of food safety within a company.
Food safety is not just the responsibility of the technical experts.What GFSI has done is to bring food safety to the C-suite and across the entire company. This is one of the exciting things for GFSI as we move into the next 15 years. GFSI used to engage food safety leaders; now we are engaging the global industry, including a companies’ management and wider staff. We are seeing expanding teams coming to GFSI events and leaving as excited as we are.
Certification is not the end game. Food safety is about continuous improvement
“Commitment begins when the fun ends.” Robyn Benincasa
Lone Jesperson said, “We’ve talked about management commitment over the years. Commitment begins when the fun ends. It is a cultural journey. It takes 3-8 years to change any given culture. You might not improve if you take your foot off the pedal.”
As stated by Maple Leaf Foods CEO, food safety requires investments in people and technology and it requires constantly raising the bar. The real purpose is to get everyone on the same elevated playing level. He thanked GFSI for working with them to help advance the food safety agenda and to do so at a global level.
LeAnn Chuboff said “It’s not just about getting that certificate, but improving the supply chain. We need to change that mentality.”
What does it come down to? “It comes down to not only having the best systems and technology in place, said Mike Robach, “it comes down to execution and implementation each and every day, 365 days a year.”
It’s a mistake to not communicate your food safety work
A topic that cannot be overlooked was the importance of communicating your food safety work. There is often reluctance to do so because the consumer feels food safety should be a given. Dr. Acheson urged the audience reconsider this a priori, saying “My belief is that being silent about what you’re doing on food safety is a mistake. Get out there and talk about how important food safety is to your company. Don’t be silent and wait for a crisis to hit before communicating.”
Outside groups do not know how good you are with food safety. They do not understand the complexity and the difficulty of producing safe food to 7 billion consumers worldwide. Think continuous improvement and external awareness. Above all, be among your food safety peers in driving the global discussion. Dr. Acheson commented that “GFSI is a fantastic tool to get us where we need to go.”
Getting the right people in the right place to find the right solutions
“We have the right people in the room to learn from each other and create that environment to collaborate for improved food safety,” said Randy Huffman in his opening address. Michael McCain spoke to the importance of GFSI’s work and said: “We believe that food safety is a non-competitive issues, and the presence of so many people in the room speaks to the acceptance of that principle.”
Karil Kochenderfer said “GFSI is a phenomenal network of people willing to help you with your food safety work.” More than the government, it is the market place and the industry who are driving the food safety discussion today. That discussion is at GFSI.
“What happens to one part of the food industry impacts us all,” said Mike Robach. “It’s a collaboration; it’s really about all of us pulling together and raising the bar.”
What’s next? Payton Pruett shared a vision for GFSI 2020. He said GFSI started out as a benchmarking initiative and while that is very important work, today GFSI is so much more than that. In the future, he sees GFSI moving forward in these four areas:
1. Continuously improving the quality of audits
2. Creating more market access by supporting developing companies
3. Further expanding GFSI via the strategic placement of local groups
4. Serving as a strong forum for food safety leaders worldwide
Closing the conference, Randy Huffman said “I had a vision to bring our event together with GFSI to create a network for shared learning. Thanks to all of you who to time out of your calendars to be here either up on stage or participating in the audience. We are all committed to making food safer.”
The event is finished; the work continues! We look forward to seeing you soon in a GFSI Technical Working Group, a Local Group or the next Global Food Safety Conference. Stay connected on GFSI’s work as we collaborate for “safe food for consumers everywhere.”