Tag Archives: GFSI

GFSI, The Consumer Goods Forum

Reset, Rethink, Recharge: First Virtual GFSI Conference to Address Urgent Topics in Food Safety

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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GFSI, The Consumer Goods Forum

This year’s GFSI Conference will take place March 23–25 and bring together experts, decision makers and innovators in the food industry. With the theme of “rethink, reset, recharge”, the three-day virtual program includes online networking features to allow attendees to connect with professionals across the globe, and sessions that explore COVID-19; supply chain disruption and public health; building consumer trust and transparency; sharing best practices; and technologies shaping the future of food safety.

“Collaboration to ensure safe food for consumers everywhere and sustainable food systems has never been more critical – and this event provides a major opportunity to learn from an unprecedented period and move forwards in the best possible way. We’re excited by the chance to help colleagues across the industry build on the ingenuity, resilience and dedication shown by the food industry over the past 12 months,” said Erica Sheward, director of GFSI, in a press release. “With the conference taking place virtually for the first time, it’s easier than ever before for food industry professionals to get involved—and we’re urging people from all corners of the globe to ensure they’re part of this unique and collaborative forum. Food safety is everyone’s business, and we must continue to work together to build consumers’ trust in the food they buy.”

More information about the GFSI conference, along with registration, agenda and partner details, can be found on the event website.

GFSI is a partner organization for the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series.

Judy Black, Orkin
Bug Bytes

Food Safety Audits During a Pandemic: What You Should Know and How to Prepare

By Judy Black
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Judy Black, Orkin

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted the food industry on several fronts from production to consumer purchasing habits to in-restaurant dining adjustments. While facility operations might look different, the demand for product is certainly still high, so operations should be tighter than ever.

Unfortunately, pest activity has not slowed down during the pandemic. From rodents and cockroaches to stored product pests and birds, your facility is susceptible to pest disruptions. With shipments coming and going and limited staffing, it’s also highly likely you don’t have time to prioritize your pest management program. An unchecked, contaminated shipment leaving your facility and making it into the homes of consumers is all it takes to wreak havoc on your business.

Food processing, pest management
Your goal, and the goal of your pest control partner, should be that your facility is ready for an audit at any time. (Image courtesy of Orkin)

If you already have an integrated pest management (IPM) program in place, you’re heading in the right direction with securing your facility. IPM programs help food processing facilities keep pests from entering and destroying your product by applying preventive measures such as identifying potential and existing sanitation opportunities and regularly evaluating the state of facility maintenance.

The last thing you need right now is a failed audit due to preventable pest issues. Failing a first, second or third-party audit can lead to many consequences such as a damaged reputation, reduced profits and worst of all, lost customers. With most regulators resuming on-site audits, offering remote options or a hybrid of the two, ensuring your facility stays within regulations is still possible, and highly encouraged. After all, pest control plays a significant role in all major food safety audits and can account for up to 20% of your score.

Food Safety Audits during the Pandemic and New Changes

Not only do facility managers have to regulate operations during a pandemic, but they also must maintain strict food safety standards to ensure that the food supply chain stays healthy. With the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, there is some hope that the pandemic may be under control soon, but it is not over yet, and food safety audits should not be avoided because of a pandemic. To accommodate, many auditors implemented new measures such as remote and hybrid audits for food processing facilities, in addition to on-site audits.

If your facility is still unable to conduct on-site audits at this time, special accommodations can be made. The following auditors have made updates to their food safety audits amid the pandemic:

  • BRCGS: In addition to blended audits, BRCGS is offering certificate extensions for up to six months with a risk assessment and review. Although not benchmarked by GFSI, remote assessments are also available and involve a video audit of your facility’s storage and production areas in additional to reviewing internal audit results and documentation.
  • SQFI: SQFI is postponing certifications for extenuating circumstances and implemented additional processes for risk assessments. Certifying bodies will have to conduct risk assessments to determine whether a certificate extension is needed.
  • FDA: After temporarily suspending all facility inspections last March, the FDA has resumed domestic inspections on a case-by-case basis when safe to execute. Foreign inspections have not yet resumed so, take extra care if your facility regularly receives foreign shipments.
  • FSIS: Inspections of meat, poultry and egg facilities continued through the pandemic. These regulated facilities continue to require sanitation SOPs to help maintain food safety and prevent the spread of diseases.

Whether your facility is able to resume onsite audits or needs to switch to a remote or hybrid option, pests will still be trying to take advantage. Working with your pest control provider to ensure your documentation and pest management measures are in order is one of the best ways to ensure any audit or risk assessment goes smoothly. While each auditor has specific requirements, here are some key considerations for your next third-party inspection.

Implement an IPM Program

We cannot stress enough the importance of a proactive pest management program for food processing facilities. The best way to reduce pest issues is to build them out. Your pest control partner will identify and communicate to you on ways to reduce, or in some cases even eliminate food, water and harborage for pests. Ensure your contract specifies the roles and responsibilities of your pest control partner and you, the scope of service and a risk assessment plan. If you’re unsure of what your contract entails, now is the time to get in touch with your pest control partner.

Invest in Your Employees

Train your staff to spot and record signs of pest activity so you can address them immediately with your pest control partner. This is particularly important if you had to adjust employee schedules during the pandemic to enforce proper social distancing. Fewer staff means fewer opportunities to spot pest issues, so making sure all employees are trained can help you in the long run.

Keep Up with Documentation

Your documentation is an integral part of your audit process because it shows third-party auditors that you can verify that you have an effective pest management plan in place. Three types of documents are needed for your audit: Proof of training and certification, pesticide documentation and general facility documentation. Most pest control providers now maintain digital documentation for their partners which makes it easier to track and monitor for pest trends, treatments and updates to your plan. Even with a proper pest management program in place, facilities can still lose points for not having proper documentation so don’t overlook this part.

Hold Practice Runs

A good pest control partner will encourage test audits to ensure you’re prepared for the real deal. An annual assessment is one of the best ways to make sure your pest management program is still working and to address any gaps if it isn’t. Don’t forget to review your documentation during test audits in addition to joining your pest control partner for a physical inspection of your facility (socially distanced, of course).

Prepare your Facility

Your goal, and the goal of your pest control partner, should be that your facility is ready for an audit at any time. However, if you have an upcoming scheduled audit, a week before your audit, work with your pest control partner to conduct interior and exterior inspections as well as a documents review. Make sure you are familiar with how to access your customer web portal so that you can access data if requested. During these inspections, make sure any monitoring devices meet auditor requirements and are properly placed and maintained. The day before your audit, make another run through the facility to be sure your facility is ready. You don’t want your auditor finding cobwebs in your storage room or debris showing up in the background of a video audit.

Food safety should be a top priority for your business—your reputation depends on it after all. As the food industry continues to navigate operating in a post-pandemic climate, maintaining a successful pest management program and updated records will give you a head start when it comes to audits no matter the format. With public health concerns at an all-time high, consumers and suppliers alike will be grateful for your increased attention to maintaining industry regulations.

Tiffany Donica, SafetyChain
FST Soapbox

Preparing for Your First Remote Audit? Everything You Should Know

By Tiffany Donica
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Tiffany Donica, SafetyChain

COVID-19 has disrupted different sectors, and the food and beverage industry hasn’t been spared either. Despite all the new regulations that businesses had to put in place amid the global pandemic, one thing remained clear: There was still a need for food safety certifications.

However, with travel restrictions in place and strict regulations to curb the virus’s spread, in-house audits have become a thing of the past. Therefore, food and beverage companies have had to turn to remote audits to ensure they can still undergo the rigorous certification process.

Remote audits are a new concept, and it’s only fair that you don’t know how to go about it. This guide will highlight all the essential details about remote audits, why they are necessary, and how you can prepare for your first one ever.

Understanding Remote Food Safety Auditing

As the coronavirus hit the world, GFSI started exploring the feasibility of remote and virtual certification audits. In June, GFSI announced that it would support the use of information and communications technologies (ICT) during audits. The organization also updated its benchmarking requirements so that Certification program Owners could develop their own remote auditing procedures.

GFSI had been thinking of incorporating ICT in the audit processes, and the emergence of COVID-19 only accelerated the decision. Instead of doing away with in-person audits because of the risk of spread, GFSI used this opportunity to adopt instead of compromising strict food safety standards.

Benefits of a Remote Audit

Generally, audits help food and beverage companies maintain their safety standards compliance and certifications. During these times, the need to uphold these standards is high, mostly because of the strain on the healthcare system.

In addition to upholding standards, remote audits present several benefits.

  • Cost Savings. Certifying bodies usually have to cater to travel expenses for the auditors. With remote auditing, auditors don’t need to travel, which helps them cut down their costs. Additionally, the process requires limited resources, easing the strain on the bodies and organization.
  • Long-term record. Remote auditing will require the use of videos. These videos can be kept for future use, and the companies can use them to track their progress over time.
  • Transparency. Usually, the food companies’ management and administration may not have access to the audit report. However, with remote auditing, the auditors give real-time insight, and the managers get authentic reports on their certification audits.
  • Secure storage. Remote audit reports will be stored on centralized clouds that are safe. Only the customer and the auditor have access to the audit reports, which ensures the reports’ security.

How to Run a Remote Audit

Remote audits are usually conducted partially through either a walk-through video or installed cameras.

Via a walk-through video. An organization may have one of its employees record the company’s operations as they walk through different departments. For this approach, they could either use glasses equipped with a camera, a helmet with a mounted camera, or a hand device.

Although this method is cost-effective, it may not be the best since the employee chooses what to show and could be biased.

Via installed cameras. This second method involves having cameras installed in different areas in the company. Recorded or live feeds from the camera are then chosen randomly and used during the audit. This method of remote auditing may not be too effective since employees may choose to remain compliant when they know the cameras are on.

Steps in a Remote Audit

The remote auditing process is quite similar to the in-house auditing process. However, companies must first assess themselves to ensure the remote process is successful. The following are the steps you need to follow when performing a remote audit.

1. Request the Remote Audit
You must first notify the certifying body that you need a remote audit. The certifying organization will then determine whether the audit is a viable option for your company. In some cases, remote audits may not be an option because of the COVID restrictions or other reasons.

2. Carry Out a Self-assessment
Once you have the go-ahead, the company needs to conduct a self-assessment. Here, you answer questions about the company’s programs, facilities or any changes to the operations process. You must also look at the previous audit report to determine the trend over the last year.

3. Technical Review
After submitting your self-assessment, the technical team will review your answers. They will then determine whether the company’s record-keeping, systems and procedures could be audited remotely. The team then decides whether they’ll conduct a remote audit or if the company should stick to onsite audits.

4. Have the Remote Audit
After the team approves your remote audit, you can start preparing for it. The team will recommend the best way to have the audit. After a successful audit, your company can receive certification. In a remote audit, the reports will be shared digitally over a private portal. The team will also give its recommendations over the portal. Also, your company may require an onsite audit at later time.

How to Prepare for a Remote Audit

Once the technical team gives you the go-ahead for a remote audit, you’ll need to start preparing for it. The following are five things you can do to ensure the process is smooth and successful.

1. Identify the Key Personnel in the Company
During an onsite audit, you should always have some of the company’s management around to ensure everything runs as intended. It would be best if you had these same people support your remote audit. Whether they are in the office or working remotely, these personnel should know they must be available. You could choose to use calls or video conferencing to ensure they’re involved in the entire process.

2. Identify the Needs with the Audit Team
You will have to find out from the audit team the requirements for the remote audit. The team will let you know the preferred method of conferencing and take you through the process. They will tell you everything you must do and sort out any issues before the actual audit date.

3. Digitize Your Documents
After finding out what you need, your next step should be to digitize any necessary documents. You will be sharing the documents over an online portal, and it is best to have everything ready before the audit day.

4. Gather Documentation From Auditors
Another requirement will be to send some documentation to your auditors. This documentation is the same required for onsite audits. Some of what to include is the visitor’s policy and any NDAs. You should gather all these documents early enough so that you have time to correct any issues that may arise.

5. Check the Internet Connection
Your remote audit will probably require some IT. Therefore, you should ensure your internet connection is reliable and that all the systems work as they should. Everyone involved in the audit process must ensure that their connection will remain reliable during the entire process.

Tips for Working with Remote Auditors

The entire concept of remote auditing may be new for all parties involved. Everyone has something to learn, but here are some of the things that food and beverage companies can do to make everything easier for all parties.

  • Ensure you have the right technology, including webcams.
  • Minimize the disruptions during the audit time by ensuring you’re in a quiet environment.
  • Do a test run to ensure all the systems are working.
  • Be calm during the entire audit process, including during the preparation period.

Although COVID-19 made it possible to transition to remote audits, there are high chances that GFSI and food and beverage companies will stick to them after the pandemic. They are convenient and present several benefits. Therefore, you just might need these actionable tips for more than only your first remote audit.

Earl Arnold, AIB International
FST Soapbox

HACCP is the Past, Present and a Building Block for the Future

By Earl Arnold
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Earl Arnold, AIB International

“Food safety plan” is a term often used in the food industry to define an operation’s plan to prevent or reduce potential food safety issues that can lead to a serious adverse health consequence or death to humans and animals to an acceptable level. However, depending on the facility, their customers, and or regulatory requirements, the definition and specific requirements for food safety plans can be very different. To ensure food safety, it’s important that the industry finds consensus in a plan that is vetted and has worked for decades.

One of the first true food safety plans was HACCP. Developed in 1959 for NASA with the assistance of the food industry, its goal was to ensure food produced for astronauts was safe and would not create illness or injury while they were in space. This type of food safety plan requires twelve steps, the first five of which are considered the preliminary tasks.

  1. Assemble a HACCP team
  2. Describe the finished product
  3. Define intended use and consumer
  4. Create process and flow diagram
  5. Verify process and flow diagrams

This is followed by the seven principles of HACCP.

  1. Conduct the hazard analysis
  2. Identify critical control points
  3. Establish critical limits
  4. Establish monitoring requirements
  5. Establish corrective actions for deviations
  6. Procedures for verification of the HACCP plan
  7. Record keeping documenting the HACCP system

HACCP is accompanied by several prerequisites that support the food safety plan, which can include a chemical control program, glass and brittle plastics program, Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), allergen control program, and many others. With these requirements and support, HACCP is the most utilized form of a food safety plan in the world.

When conducting the hazard analysis (the first principle of HACCP), facilities are required to assess all products and processing steps to identify known or potential biological, chemical and physical hazards. Once identified, if it is determined that the hazard has a likelihood of occurring and the severity of the hazard would be great, then facilities are required to implement Critical Control Points (CCP) to eliminate or significantly reduce that identified hazard. Once a CCP is implemented, it must be monitored, corrective actions developed if a deviation in the CCP is identified and each of these are required to be verified. Records then also need to be maintained to demonstrate the plan is being followed and that food safety issues are minimized and controlled.

HACCP is, for the most part, the standard food safety plan used to meet the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards. This is utilized in various third-party audit and customer requirements such as FSSC 22000, SQF, BRC, IFS and others. These audit standards that many facilities use and comply with also require the development of a food safety management system, which includes a food safety plan.

Further, HACCP is often used to demonstrate that potential food safety issues are identified and addressed. FDA has adopted and requires a regulated HACCP plan for both 100% juice and seafood processing facilities. USDA also requires the regulated development of HACCP for meat processing and other types of facilities to minimize potential food safety issues.

For facilities required to register with the FDA—unless that facility is exempt or required to comply with regulated HACCP—there is a new type of food safety plan that is required. This type of plan builds upon HACCP principles and its steps but goes beyond what HACCP requires. Under 21 CFR 117, specific additions assist in identifying and controlling additional food safety hazards that are on the rise. This includes undeclared allergen recalls, which constituted 47% of recalls in the last reportable food registry report published by FDA.

Prior to developing this plan, FDA provided recommendations for preliminary steps that can be completed and are essential in development of a robust food safety plan but are not a regulatory requirement. The steps are very similar to the preliminary tasks required by HACCP, including the following:

  1. Assemble a food safety team
  2. Describe the product and its distribution
  3. Describe the intended use and consumers of the food
  4. Develop a flow diagram and describe the process
  5. Verify the flow diagram on-site

Their recommended plan also requires a number of additional steps, including:

  1. A written hazard analysis. Conducted by or overseen by a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI). However, this hazard analysis requires assessing for any known or reasonably foreseeable biological, chemical, physical, radiological, or economically motivated adulteration (food fraud that historically leads to a food safety issue only). You may note that two additional hazards—radiological and EMA—have been added to what HACCP calls for in the assessment.
  2. Written preventive controls if significant hazards are identified. However, similar preventive controls are different than a CCP. There are potentially four types of preventive controls that may be utilized for potential hazards, including Process Preventive Controls (the same as CCP), Allergen Preventive Controls, Sanitation Preventive Controls, Supply Chain Preventive Controls and Others if identified.
  3. A written supply chain program if a Supply Chain Preventive Control is identified. This includes having an approved supplier program and verification process for that program.
  4. A written recall plan if a facility identified a Preventive Control.
  5. Written monitoring procedures for any identified Preventive Control that includes the frequency of the monitoring what is required to do and documenting that monitoring event.
  6. Written corrective actions for identified Preventive Controls in case of deviations during monitoring. Corrective actions must be documented if they occur.
  7. Written verification procedures as required. This could include how monitoring and corrective actions are verified, procedures themselves are verified, and calibration of equipment as required. Also required is training, including a Preventive Control Qualified Individual. Additional training is required for those individuals responsible for performing monitoring, implementing corrective actions, and verification of Preventive Controls. Further, all personnel need to have basic food safety training and all training needs to be documented.

While the term “food safety plan” is used widely, it’s important that operations don’t just use the term, but enact a plan that is vetted, proven to work, and encompasses the principles of HACCP. Doing so will help ensure that their facility is producing foods that customers and consumers will know is safe.

Food Safety Consortium

2020 FSC Episode 14 Preview: The Future of Food Safety

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

For those who have been with us every week since September 3—Congratulations on making it through 13 weeks of engaging and highly educational content! This week wraps up the final episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, and we are offering complimentary registration to the entire industry for the event on Thursday, December 17.

The following are highlights for this week’s session:

  • GFSI at 20 Years: Time for a Reboot? With Karil Kochenderfer, LINKAGES; Neil Marshall, The Coca-Cola Company; and Skip Greenway, Eagle Certification Group
    • “For a long time, we’ve operated businesses based on 20th century models that don’t resonate in the 21st century world. Are we at an inflection point, with both small and large businesses paying for costly and inefficient practices that no longer apply, and is it time for GFSI to change?” says Kochenderfer in her recent Food Safety Tech column on the topic.
  • Future Proofing the GFSI Ecosystem, with Erica Sheward, The Consumer Goods Forum; Kazuaki Miyagishima, GFSI Board retailer member; and Marie-Claude Quentin, GFSI
    • “GFSI looks forward to answering direct questions from participants, as taking the pulse of those within and beyond our community is an essential part of GFSI’s work, and something we have committed to do increasingly through our Stakeholder Engagement Plan. The need – and the vision of safe food for consumers everywhere – remains as vital and relevant today as it was when GFSI was founded 20 years ago,” says Erica Sheward GFSI Director, The Consumer Goods Forum.
  • The Future of Food Safety Technology, with Darin Detwiler, Northeastern University; Jennifer Crandall, Safe Food En Route, LLC; and Adam Gauthier, Northeaster University.
  • Consortium “Take Aways” Panel Discussion, with Rick Biros, Food Safety Consortium; Steven Sklare, The Food Safety Academy; Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech, and Shawn Stevens, Food Industry Counsel, LLC.

The event begins this Thursday at 12 pm ET. Haven’t registered? Follow this link to receive free registration to the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series. We look forward to your joining us virtually.

Karil Kochenderfer, LINKAGES
FST Soapbox

GFSI at 20 YEARS: Time for a Reboot?

By Karil Kochenderfer
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Karil Kochenderfer, LINKAGES

The marketplace has experienced dramatic changes that were barely on the horizon 20 years ago—by that, I mean mobile phones, Instagram, Facebook, climate change, consumer transparency, globalization, novel new products delivered to your doorstep and now COVID-19, too.

I write from a perspective of both pride and concern. I had the privilege of representing GFSI in North America and helping the organization expand beyond Europe as new food safety laws were implemented in both the United States and Canada.

Questionable Utility of Multiple, Redundant and Costly Certifications

However, I also sympathized with small and medium food companies that struggled with minimal resources and food safety expertise to understand GFSI and then to become certified not once, but multiple times for multiple customers. GFSI’s mantra, “Once Certified, Accepted Everywhere,” was far from their GFSI reality…or, frankly, the reality of many food companies. My concern was not insignificant. The food industry is populated by a majority of small businesses, each seeking that one big break that could possibly, maybe open up access to retail shelves. Their confusion about being audited and certified to one standard was significant. Certification to multiple and redundant standards presented a daunting and costly endeavor for these start-ups. I heard their anxiety in their voices as I served as GFSI’s 1.800 “customer service rep” in North America for years.

Karil Kochenderfer will present “GFSI at 20 Years: Time for a Reboot?” during the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series | Her session takes place on December 17Transparency

In the 20 years since GFSI was established, the world has become much more transparent. Today, entire industries operate on open, international, consensus-based ISO management standards in far bigger and more complex sectors than the food sector (e.g., the automotive, airline and medical device sectors). And, in the 20 years since GFSI was established, an ISO food safety management system standard has been developed that is now used widely throughout the world with more than 36,000 certifications (i.e., ISO 22000).

Auditing and certifying a facility to a single, international, public standard would enhance GFSI transparency. It also would help to hurdle government concerns related to the lack of public input into the development of private standards, enabling private certifications like GFSI to be used efficiently as a compliance tool—a benefit to both government and food interests and to consumer health, safety and trade.

New Technologies

Many new technologies, such blockchain, artificial intelligence, sensors and the Internet of Things are being heralded widely now as well, particularly for businesses with complex supply-chains like those in like the fast-moving food and retail sectors. The benefits of these technologies are predicated on the use of a common digital language…or standard. Multiple and diverse standards, like GFSI, complicate the use of these new technologies, which is why FDA is examining the harmonizing role of standards and data management in its proposed New Era of Smarter Food Safety.

Sustainable Development

Today, food safety often is managed in tandem with other corporate environment, health and safety programs. The Consumer Goods Forum, which oversees GFSI, should take a similar approach and merge GFSI with its sustainability, and health and wellness programs to help CGF members meet their existing commitments to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to encourage others to do the same. Here, once again, adoption of a single, transparent ISO standard can help. Adoption of ISO 22000 as the single and foundational standard for GFSI makes it easy to layer on and comply with other ISO standards—for example, for the environment (ISO 14000), worker protection (ISO 45001), energy efficiency (ISO 50001) and information/data security (ISO 27001)— and to simultaneously meet multiple SDGs.

Globalization

As I write, the COVID pandemic rages. It may re-align global supply chains and set back global trade temporarily, but the unprecedented rise in consumer incomes and corresponding decrease in poverty around the world attests to the importance of the global trade rules established by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Among these rules is a directive to governments (and businesses) to use common standards to facilitate trade, which uniquely recognizes ISO standards as well as those of Codex and OIE. When trade disputes arise, food interests that use ISO 22000 are hands-down winners, no questions asked. So, why use many and conflicting private standards?

Supply Chain Efficiency

Finally, ISO 22005, part of the ISO 22000 family of food management standards, also is aligned with GS1 Standards for supply-chain management, used throughout the food and retail sectors in North America and globally to share information between customers and suppliers. GS1 is most well known for being the administrators of the familiar U.P.C. barcode. The barcode and other “data carriers” provide visibility into the movement of products as well as information about select attributes about those products—including whether they have been certified under GFSI. Both GS1 and ISO GS1 standards are foundational to the new technologies that are being adopted in the fast-moving food, consumer products, healthcare and retail sectors both in the United States and globally. That alignment puts a spotlight on safety, sustainability, mobility, efficiency and so much more.

Focus Less on the Change, More on the Outcome

My proposal will surely set tongues in motion. Proposals to switch things up generally do. Disruption has become the norm, however, and food businesses are prized for their agility and responsiveness to the endless changes in today’s fast-moving marketplace. Still, ISO and Codex standards already are embedded in the GFSI benchmark so what I’m proposing should not be so disruptive and no one scheme or CPO should benefit disproportionately. And, less differentiation in the standard of industry performance will compel scheme or certification owners to shift their focus away from compliance with their standards and audit checklists to working with customers to truly enhance and establish “food safety-oriented cultures.” If they do, all of us emerge as winners.

The New Normal?

Around us new food businesses are emerging just as old businesses reinvent theirs. Trucks now operate as restaurants and athletes deliver dinner on bicycles. For a long time, we’ve operated businesses based on 20th century models that don’t resonate in the 21st century world. Are we at an inflection point, with both small and large businesses paying for costly and inefficient practices that no longer apply, and is it time for GFSI to change?

I welcome your thoughts. I truly do. Better, let’s discuss on a webinar or video call of your choosing. I look forward to connecting.

Submit questions you want Karil to answer during her session at the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series in the Comments section below.

Gary Smith, FoodChain ID
FST Soapbox

Are Remote Audits Here to Stay?

By Gary Smith
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Gary Smith, FoodChain ID

Starting in late March, based on travel restrictions and the risk of COVID-19 infection transmission, GFSI released direction to the food industry on the possibility of recertification extensions. The extensions enabled a one-time, six-month grace period to prevent certification loss.

In June GFSI updated guidance to allow up to half of the recertification process to be completed off-site using remote technology, while requiring completion of an audit’s on-site inspection within 28 to 30 days. In exceptional circumstances, a certification program could allow a maximum of 90 days for the on-site audit portion. As these “blended” audits began, fewer facilities sought extensions.

The remote portion of an audit, which includes program and record review as well as interviews, may increase audit time compared to pre-COVID audits, as all involved adjust to the use of technology and accessible electronic formats for records and programs.

After COVID-19, it is conceivable to predict that a portion of the audit could remain virtual. However, in food production, auditing requires the use of sight, touch and smell, not yet replicated without human observation. And, while COVID-19 has forced an audit evolution by pushing “virtual” adoption based on business needs, remote capabilities will still require a significant investment in technology, time and re-education of the industry. In the meantime, expect audit schedules to be disrupted for the next 9 to 12 months.

As the industry seeks to adapt for the future, we will likely see an acceleration in terms of digitized quality management systems. In the short term, manufacturers are putting their energy and focus into keeping employees safe, maintaining production and meeting customer commitments.

Several leading food safety groups have issued guidance on best practices for blended audits and the use of technology. And while the answer to “Are blended audits are here to stay?” appears to be “yes” for the immediate future, audits are expected to evolve over time. Although certain sections within audits are better adapted to remote capabilities, facilities will continue to use on-site auditors until new technologies enable them to do otherwise.

Food Safety Consortium

2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series Agenda Announced

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

The agenda for the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series has been released. The announcement about the annual Food Safety Consortium being converted to a virtual series due to the COVID-19 pandemic was made last month. Due to a demand to provide attendees with even more content, the event has been extended a full month and is running into December. Food Safety Tech is the media sponsor.

The event will begin every Thursday at 12 pm ET, beginning on September 3 and continue through December 17. Each week will feature three educational presentations, two Tech Talks, and a panel discussion. Weekly episodes include food defense, food labs, pest management, sanitation, food fraud, listeria detection, mitigation & control, professional development, women in food safety, supply chain management, COVID-19’s impact and food safety culture.

Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response, will serve as the keynote speaker on Thursday, October 1 at 12 pm ET.

“Human connection is so important for events, and we know we’re not the only game in town. That’s why we’ve invested in a Conference Virtual Platform that can facilitate discussions, discovery, and connection that can continue whether our event is offline or online—and not end with the live streaming,” says Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing and director of the Food Safety Consortium. “Simply, the experience other food safety conferences are offering is not conducive to learning, staying engaged or take into consideration that you have a job to do during that week. This is why we have designed the Consortium’s program with short, manageable episodes that are highly educational.”

Registration for the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series is open. Keeping in mind that registrants may not be able to attend every week due to scheduling conflicts, there is an option to watch the each session on demand.

Tech Talk Sponsorship

Companies that are interested in sponsoring a 10-minute technical presentation during the series can also submit their abstract through the portal. For pricing information, contact IPC Sales Director RJ Palermo.

Innovative Publishing has also converted the Cannabis Quality Conference to a virtual event. More information is available at Cannabis Industry Journal.

About Food Safety Tech

Food Safety Tech publishes news, technology, trends, regulations, and expert opinions on food safety, food quality, food business and food sustainability. We also offer educational, career advancement and networking opportunities to the global food industry. This information exchange is facilitated through ePublishing, digital and live events.

About the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo (The live event)

Food companies are concerned about protecting their customers, their brands and their own company’s financial bottom line. The term “Food Protection” requires a company-wide culture that incorporates food safety, food integrity and food defense into the company’s Food Protection strategy.

The Food Safety Consortium is an educational and networking event for Food Protection that has food safety, food integrity and food defense as the foundation of the educational content of the program. With a unique focus on science, technology and compliance, the “Consortium” enables attendees to engage in conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Delegates visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting-edge solutions, explore three high-level educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the evolving food industry.

Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

COVID-19 and Food Fraud Risk

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D.
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Karen Everstine, Decernis

While foodborne transmission of the novel coronavirus is unlikely , the virus has significantly affected all aspects of food production, food manufacturing, retail sales, and foodservice. The food and agriculture sector has been designated as a “critical infrastructure,” meaning that everyone from farm workers to pest control companies to grocery store employees has been deemed essential during this public health crisis.* As a society, we need the food and agriculture sector to continue to operate during a time when severe illnesses, stay-at-home orders and widespread economic impacts are occurring. Reports of fraudulent COVID-19 test kits and healthcare scams reinforce that “crime tends to survive and prosper in a crisis.” What does all of this mean for food integrity? Let’s look at some of the major effects on food systems and what they can tell us about the risk of food fraud.

Supply chains have seen major disruptions. Primary food production has generally continued, but there have been challenges within the food supply chain that have led to empty store shelves. Recent reports have noted shortages of people to harvest crops, multiple large meat processing facilities shut down due to COVID-19 cases, and recommendations for employee distancing measures that reduce processing rates. One large U.S. meat processor warned of the need to depopulate millions of animals and stated “the food supply chain is breaking.” (An Executive Order was subsequently issued to keep meat processing plants open).

Equally concerning are reports of supply disruptions in commodities coming out of major producing regions. Rice exports out of India have been delayed or stopped due to labor shortages and lockdown measures. Vietnam, which had halted rice exports entirely in March, has now agreed to resume exports that are capped at much lower levels than last year. Other countries have enacted similar protectionist measures. One group has predicted possible food riots in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil that may experience major food disruption coupled with high population density and poverty.

Supply chain complexity, transparency and strong and established supplier relationships are key aspects to consider as part of a food fraud prevention program. Safety or authenticity problems in one ingredient shipment can have a huge effect on the market if they are not identified before products get to retail (see Figure 1). Widespread supply chain disruptions, and the inevitable supplier adjustments that will need to be made by producers, increase the overall risk of fraud.

Reconstructed supply chain
Figure 1. Reconstructed supply chain based on recall data following the identification of Sudan I in the chili powder supply chain in 2005. Data source: Food Standards Agency of the U.K. National Archives and The Guardian. Figure from: Everstine, K. Supply Chain Complexity and Economically Motivated Adulteration. In: Food Protection and Security – Preventing and Mitigating Contamination during Food Processing and Production. Shaun Kennedy (Ed.) Woodhead Publishing: 26th October 2016. Available at: https://www.elsevier.com/books/food-protection-and-security/kennedy/978-1-78242-251-8

Regulatory oversight and audit programs have been modified. The combination of the public health risk that COVID-19 presents with the fact that food and agriculture system workers have been deemed “critical” has led to adjustments on the part of government and regulatory agencies (and private food safety programs) with respect to inspections, labeling requirements, audits, and other routine activities. The FDA has taken measures including providing flexibility in labeling for certain menus and food products, temporarily conducting remote inspections of food importers, and generally limiting domestic inspections to those that are most critical. USDA FSIS has also indicated they are “exercising enforcement discretion” to provide labeling flexibilities. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced they are prioritizing certain regulatory activities and temporarily suspending those activities determined to be “low risk.” GFSI has also taken measures to allow Certification Program Owners to provide certificate extensions due to the inability to conduct in-person audits.

While these organizations have assured stakeholders and the public that food safety is of primary importance, the level of direct regulatory and auditing oversight has been reduced to reduce the risk of virus transmission during in-person activities. Strong auditing programs with an anti-fraud component are an important aspect of food fraud prevention. Adjustments to regulatory and auditing oversight, as necessary as they may be, increase the risk of fraud in the food system.

There is a focus on safety and sustainability of foods. The food industry and regulatory agencies are understandably focused on basic food safety and food sustainability and less focused on non-critical issues such as quality and labeling. However, there is a general sense among some in industry that the risk of food fraud is heightened right now. Many of the effects on the industry due to COVID-19 are factors that are known to increase fraud risk: Supply chain disruptions, changes in commodity prices, supplier relationships (which may need to be changed in response to shortages), and a lack of strong auditing and oversight. However, as of yet, we have not seen a sharp increase in public reports of food fraud.

This may be due to the fact that we are still in the relatively early stages of the supply chain disruptions. India reported recently that the Food Safety Department of Kerala seized thousands of kilograms of “stale” and “toxic” fish and shrimp illegally brought in to replace supply shortages resulting from the halt in fishing that occurred due to lockdown measures.

High-value products may be particularly at risk. Certain high-value products, such as botanical ingredients used in foods and dietary supplements, may be especially at risk due to supply chain disruptions. Historical data indicate that high-value products such as extra virgin olive oil, honey, spices, and liquors, are perpetual targets for fraudulent activity. Turmeric, which we have discussed previously, was particularly cited as being at high risk for fraud due to “‘exploding’ demand ‘amidst supply chain disruptions.’”

How can we ensure food sufficiency, safety, and integrity? FAO has recommended that food banks be mobilized, the health of workers in the food and agriculture sector be prioritized, that governments support small food producers, and that trade and tax policies keep global food trade open. They go on to say, “by keeping the gears of the supply chains moving and actively seeking international cooperation to keep trade open, countries can prevent food shortages and protect the most vulnerable populations.” FAO and WHO also published interim guidance for national food safety control systems, which noted the increased risk of food fraud. They stated “during this pandemic, competent authorities should investigate reported incidences involving food fraud and work closely with food businesses to assess the vulnerability of supply chains…”.

From a food industry perspective, some important considerations include whether businesses have multiple approved suppliers for essential ingredients and the availability of commodities that may affect your upstream suppliers. The Acheson Group recommends increasing supply chain surveillance during this time. The Food Chemicals Codex group recommends testing early and testing often and maintaining clear and accurate communication along the supply chain.1 The nonprofit American Botanical Council, in a memo from its Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program, stated “responsible buyers, even those with relatively robust quality control programs, may need to double- or even triple-down on QC measures that deal with ingredient identity and authenticity.”

Measures to ensure the sufficiency, sustainability, safety and integrity of foods are more closely linked than ever before. In this time when sufficiency is critical, it is important to avoid preventable food recalls due to authenticity concerns. We also need to stay alert for situations where illegal and possibly hazardous food products enter the market due to shortages created by secondary effects of the virus. The best practices industry uses to reduce the risk of food fraud are now important for also ensuring the sufficiency, sustainability and safety of the global food supply.

Reference

  1. Food Safety Tech. (April 24, 2020). “COVID-19 in the Food Industry: Mitigating and Preparing for Supply Chain Disruptions “. On-Demand Webinar. Registration page retrieved from https://register.gotowebinar.com/recording/1172058910950755596

*Foodborne transmission is, according to the Food Standards Agency in the U.K., “unlikely” and, according to the U.S. FDA, “currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.”

Christine Charlotte Akselsen, Kezzler
FST Soapbox

Connecting the Dots for Food Safety at GFSI 2020

By Christine Charlotte Akselsen
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Christine Charlotte Akselsen, Kezzler

Representatives at this year’s GFSI conference hailed from 53 countries and spanned the food industry, academia, the public sector and beyond. They came together in Seattle, a city that has long stood at the cutting edge of technological innovation, and as such was a fitting host for this year’s theme: “One Connected World. One Safe Food Supply”.

Speakers at the forefront of their fields shared knowledge and showcased creative methods of delivering connectivity—interpersonal, technology-mediated and otherwise, all geared towards the ultimate goal of helping provide safer food for consumers everywhere.

Meanwhile, there were numerous opportunities to connect with representatives of industry giants such as Costa, Nestle, McDonald’s, Amazon and Starbucks, as well as regulatory agencies, certification & accreditation bodies, NGOs, academia and the media, at the various networking sessions.

Urgent Action Required

As the conference kicked off, it was Peter Freedman, the managing director of The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), who set out the importance of the task at hand. His message was one of urgency in delivering positive change.

Freedman pointed to recent global events, such as the wildfires in Brazil, as examples of how the world could be at a tipping point. “Action is more urgent than ever”, he told delegates, stating that it is no longer just a matter of responding, but responding urgently. Freedman also pointed to E. coli outbreaks in 2017, 2018 and late 2019 to drive home to industry leaders gathered at the conference that food safety cannot be taken for granted.

The spirit of the event was, as usual, geared towards a collaborative approach. Delegates were asked to leave their commercial interests at the door and work purely towards “a world where all food is safe” for the duration of the event.

“This week is not about us as individuals, it’s about how we come together as a collective of brilliant minds to provide solutions,” GFSI Director Erica Sheward stated. She then invited the audience to stand in recognition of this commitment, and sure enough everyone in the packed auditorium took to their feet demonstrating their commitment to the shared mission.

GFSI’s New Benchmarking Requirements

The GFSI used the conference as a platform to launch its new Benchmarking Requirements Version 2020, which establish a new foundation for food safety. To close the opening session, Sheward joined Mike Robach, Chairman of the GFSI Board, Vice-Chairs Anita Scholte op Reimer and Gillian Kelleher and GFSI Senior Technical Manager Marie-Claude Quentin around a red ‘action button’ to mark their publication.

The requirements are geared towards enabling a common understanding and mutual trust in the supply chain that facilitates trade, improves efficiency and lends nameplate authority to operations certified to a GFSI-recognized program. They incorporate stakeholder input from public consultations and are regularly revised to reflect best practices and evolving needs in the industry.

GFSI positioned the new version as more than just an update, but a complete rethink “representing the beginning of a new generation of recognition”. The two primary objectives of Version 2020, are to achieve transparency and objectivity, with new and strengthened elements that include two new scopes focused on hygienic design, elements of food safety culture and reinforced impartiality of the auditing process and the monitoring of certification bodies.

Shark Tank Sessions

This year’s GFSI program also included a new format to help showcase how the latest technology is being used to further food safety. Leaders in innovation took part in a number of Shark Tank-style breakout sessions to pitch their technology solutions to the sharks and the attendees.

A total of nine cutting-edge companies took to the stage to pitch their concepts to a panel of experts—‘sharks’—who are well-placed to judge their value for the industry. The nine competitors were selected from a large pool of applicants based on their innovative spirit, disruptive potential and feasibility.

Each presenter had 12-minutes to outline the context in which their solution is utilized, the technology supporting it and how it is implemented. Following the pitches, each presenter came under the scrutiny of the sharks who were able to ask clarifying questions.

Kezzler was among the companies to take to the stage with CEO Christine Akselsen sharing insights from work with FrieslandCampina’s infant formula brand, FRISO. Referencing the grass-to-glass case study, she demonstrated how Kezzler’s technology works in practice, tracking information from farms in The Netherlands to consumers in China. Following the sessions an audience vote determined the winner of the competition, which was announced during the final plenary of the conference. Kezzler was also crowned as the first-ever GFSI Shark Tank champion.