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Tokyo is a vibrant city with bustling streets, swarming crowds and bright neon signs and flashing screens at almost every turn. The Grand Nikko Hotel Tokyo Daiba was a similar hive of activity throughout the week of GFSI’s 2018 Global Food Safety Conference.

The four-day programme of events began with delegates experiencing a behind the scenes look at the Japanese food industry. International visitors had the chance to soak up some of the rich culture and history of Japan through a series of Discovery Tours.

On Day 2, attendees streamed through the registration desks and prepared themselves for the jam-packed lineup of plenary sessions, breakouts, special sessions, tech talks and a thriving exhibition hall.

More than 1200 delegates from over 50 countries filled the ballrooms and every nook and cranny of the venue. Pockets of activity sprang up in corners of the Exhibition Hall where exhibitors were waiting to showcase their solutions. The room quickly filled and started buzzing with excitement and anticipation. Crowds gathered around video displays, walls streaming social media feeds and even an interactive robot called Pepper. This all set the scene for the high tech and futuristic discussions which would take place over the next three days.

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The range of topics included everything from food safety culture to capacity building and public-private partnerships to emerging technologies and the future of food.

Technology, innovation and the future of food safety were key themes that weaved their way through the whole conference programme.

The latest buzzwords and acronyms became commonplace in conversations: blockchain, Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). But, as the speakers made clear throughout the week, these are more than buzzwords. They are powerful tools for improving safety at every step of the food chain. They will form the backbone of the future of food but are already making waves in the present.

Delegates from every corner of the globe had the chance to come and witness the future of food safety first hand. The opportunity to see the emerging trends and discuss what’s top of mind amongst peers is one of the most valuable aspects of this global conference.

The main event kicked off with a surprise video message from the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. He welcomed delegates and positioned the conference as a natural expression of Japan's longstanding safeguards with food safety. This introduction set the scene for an a-list cast of presenters from leading companies in the food industry. In addition, the Prime Minister’s speech was great proof for the unprecedented level of government support for GFSI in Japan and further afield.

Throughout the course of the conference, presenters and experts shared their experiences and promoted best practices.

In the opening session, CEOs from some of Japan’s top retailers rubbed shoulders with Japan's Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The topic was Food Safety Culture and Leadership and the experienced panel of leaders presented their opinions on how their companies would adapt to the future. Trends included organic agriculture, globalised markets, and international collaboration.

Plenary 2 featured another all-star lineup of CEOs, Vice-Presidents and business leaders. The session, titled Are You Actively Listening To Your Customers? You Should Be, spoke to the importance of active listening and leveraging technology to aid in customer communication and monitoring feedback.

Wednesday, the busiest day of the week, covered another diverse range of topics. The morning saw discussion of capacity building in a session titled GFSI Global Markets Programme – A Proven Pathway To Capacity Building & Food Safety Culture. This session also hosted a presentation for the Global Markets Awards winners: Asociaciones Agroindustriales Serranas of Mexico, The Nuts & Legumes Company of Pakistan, Plantation Industries Limited of Nigeria, and Fuji Foods of Japan.

The technology theme returned in Plenary 4: Revolutionising Food Through Technology and Education. Martin Weidmann, Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety at Cornell University opened the session with a fascinating look at the future of whole genome sequencing. The session also covered an investor's perspective on emerging food technologies and a quirky presentation about bringing comic books and lab grown meat growing kits into Japanese schools.

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It was not just the main stage that captivated the audience’s attention. Special sessions, breakouts, and Tech Talks also captured the attendee’s attention – particularly for sessions that showcased the latest tech tools and platforms. Delegates were thrilled to experience these tools first hand and get a taste of the new frontier of the food industry.

Of notable mention was the breakout session on food fraud which drew a large crowd. Food fraud is a perennial concern of food safety and the tech darlings of the moment – blockchain and Big Data in particular – are perfectly poised to solve some of these long-standing challenges.

Given the undercurrent technology running through all aspects of the event, it was particularly apt that the conference closed with a session titled Japan 2020, Nutrition and the Future of Food. In this final presentation the audience were delighted by Daichi Suzuki, Commissioner of the Japan Sports Agency and former Olympic gold medalist, Mitsuru Izumo, president of Euglena Co., and Adjiedj Bakas, the renowned futurist behind Trend Office Bakas.

Bakas closed the session with a kaleidoscope of predictions about the future of food and beyond. His fast-paced, multimedia presentation covered every possible trend from converting corpses into an alternative water source to growing meat in artificial animal wombs. Attendees left the auditorium with his words of wisdom ringing in their ears:

“Playing it safe is the riskiest thing you can do.”

This was truly a fitting end for an action packed event that touched on so many aspects of food and food safety across the past, present and future.

There was so much knowledge and experience shared at this year’s conference that it’s almost impossible to condense into something concise and actionable. But alongside the key themes of collaboration, technology and innovation there were a number of messages that were repeated again and again. Conference attendees and the wider GFSI community can all benefit from these actionable takeaways:

  • Emerging tech such as Internet of Things, blockchain, and Big Data aren’t just buzzwords – they’re powerful tools for improving safety at every step of the food chain.
  • Food safety should be a collaboration, not a competition. Collaboration is key to improvement for all stakeholders in all sectors.
  • Public, private, and academic sectors must communicate to foster innovation.
    The old guard of food business must listen to and learn from startups and accelerators – they are the future of the food industry.
  • International government regulators and third party auditors should communicate to create international approaches that adapt fluidly to regional cultures.
  • Food safety culture must apply at all levels of an organisation, from the CEO to workers in the field.

The GFSI Conference is a melting pot and a platform for innovation. It’s the tangible interface that connects stakeholders to the present and future trends, challenges and opportunities in advancing food safety.

This year’s event was a tremendous success and clearly marks GFSI’s position on the global map as leaders in advancing food safety standards. Together as a community we have the chance to push forward the GFSI mission of achieving safe food for consumers everywhere.


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