Imagine being one of the world’s top food producers focusing on health-driven “categories”: Early Life Nutrition, Medical Nutrition, Water, and Dairy… Imagine that most of your products are community-relevant, tailored to the local culture and expectations of the 130 countries they’re distributed in… Imagine that for some of your customers – babies, patients with a medical condition – the food you produce can constitute 100% of their diet for at least a week…
That’s the case for Danone. And that’s why food safety is the very foundation of our mission.
We aim to “bring health through food to as many people as possible” and food safety is the stepping-stone to reach that goal. Naturally, Danone has been a member of GFSI since its creation and we’ve always been deeply invested in this initiative, contributing as well as benefiting from it.
So, the fundamental importance of food safety for Danone has never changed. Yet, our environment has. The image of food industry is not the same it was: food-related scandals have altered consumers’ perception, now tainted with distrust. Their level of expectations has risen, while public authorities have reinforced regulations and controls. As a responsible company, our governance is constantly in movement, improving and adapting to better tackle new challenges in a changing environment, whether they be related to the complexity of the food chain, new emerging risks, climate change or consumer demand…
That’s the goal of Danone’s new food safety governance, implemented since January 2014. 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.
In practice, our new food safety governance means a standardized 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 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.
Food Safety is therefore divided in three branches: a corporate one, in charge of risk assessments, risk analysis, establishing directives, reference documents, and audit grids... Our guidelines are largely based on the GFSI requirements, which provide great insights regarding best food safety practices. The second branch, closer to products and technologies, is in charge of translating guidelines into operational instructions for our businesses. Then, Quality teams present at every local level ensure and supervise their excellent implementation. The last branch is a food safety dedicated audit team with 2 main missions: helping businesses quickly comply with the Danone standards, and performing internal investigations when a severe deviation occurs to determine the causes.
Because our challenges are constantly evolving, this new governance is a work in progress. 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.
A second axis focuses on technical training. Its efficiency depends on our precise knowledge of each position’s need in food safety competences and of their existing level of expertise. So we’re working on establishing “training passports”. We also organize regular “food safety campuses” to train local managers on the latest developments in food safety or on updated instructions and upgraded levels of requirement. Beyond our “gates”, we also set up training sessions for our partners and suppliers if they accept it: we are completely transparent with them. As a result, some have taken inspiration or even reproduced our Food Safety Management System as such.
Another key priority is to strengthen a “Culture of Quality” that includes Food Safety and Quality at all levels and functions. It’s essential. A lot of hidden efforts are guiding our work everyday: standards, processes, training… But to make the difference, no rule will be as powerful as our behavior and mindset.
Through it all, Danone pursues one single goal: being one of the best players in food industry and, by doing so, contributing to pushing food safety standards upwards. To achieve that goal, we are constantly managing three time-frames simultaneously: acting today, preparing for tomorrow and anticipating the day after tomorrow.
In this respect, being a GFSI member is an essential part of our continuous improvement but also our way of participating in the progress of food safety in the world. GFSI is a laboratory of reflection and foresight. It has allowed us to progress on many topics: certification and audit standards, the development of small local producers’ food safety level, food fraud or, currently, food safety culture. GFSI allows us to treat in collaborative fashion topics we would have a hard time tackling on our own. Working with peer companies gives us the guarantee to be oriented towards solutions or ideas that are industrially viable and realistic. In exchange, we contribute with our thoughts and our specific positioning, culture and approach.
Together, we will be stronger to help food safety thrive. And we will be better armed to face the new challenges of tomorrow: meeting customers’ aspiration for local and natural products by inventing ways to make less-processed food safer; creating appealing communication and education about food safety; and finding new ways to include technological progress in food safety, beyond the sole scope of detection.
This post was written and contributed by:
Danone Chief Food Safety Officer
GFSI Board Member