I was honoured to have been asked to share some thoughts as Chair for the second day of this year's 10th Annual North American Food Safety Summit held in Toronto. As a supporter of this special conference for the past few years, we at EMC have come to both appreciate and respect the ongoing commitment from Canada's producers to be leaders in the world of Food Safety.
Thought I might share a few highlights from the Conference and hope that you will consider joining us for next year's event!
As the "10th" Annual Food Safety Conference of this nature, it was only fitting that our Chair on Day 1, Gary Fread, should begin with a review of the advancements we have made in Food Safety over the past decade. He referenced some of the most serious recalls and the increased variety of those - all hampering consumer trust in major ways. He also addressed our response to these issues and the development of programs such as GFSI and global benchmarking, and of the uptake on certifications for BRC, SQF, ISO22000 and ISF. HACCP has permeated through almost every aspect of the value chain via the support of sector organizations and industry leaders. Perhaps it is a good time for all of us to take a moment to pause and reflect on where our company was ten years ago and where it is today from a food safety standpoint... what will the next ten years hold and how can we prepare ourselves? Our Chair encouraged everyone to start thinking up and down the value chain and that as whole, we would have a better chance at solving some of those larger issues.
This Conference was filled with excellent keynotes, panel discussions, best practice sharing and supplier exhibits that provided attendees with lots of opportunity to network with peers, to ask questions of our speakers, and to interact with attendees on common issues of interest relating to our topic at hand.
The CFIA reported in their annual North American Regulatory Update that "we are in a dynamic global food environment" and that our arena, if you will, is becoming ever more complex. There is considerable development, review and merging of existing regulations to simplify processes and provide better protection, transparency and ease in which to comply. There will be some Canadian/US alignment with respect to preventative control and import requirements for good manufacturing practices. The new Safe Food for Canadians Act and regulations come into force in mid-2015.
Similarly, the FDA is also reviewing their proposed rules under the FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) and are actively seeking to build and involve industry, stakeholders, partners and so forth. FSMA was first added in the 1930's and needless to say, the world has changed considerably since then. The main theme of this legislation will be to look at globalization of food safety as a whole with enhanced partnerships that bring institutions and industry together. Our speaker also addressed the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) where the onus is on importers from a food safety perspective and they are at the centre of priority in this regard. There is a responsibility to know all aspects of the imported product. The Canadian - US approach is to be "preventative" in nature for food safety rather than responsive.
In a subsequent presentation, our speaker from the FDA also mentioned the importance of developing a food defense plan - and to look at customized strategies that involve written plan development and training.
We thoroughly enjoyed a Case Study presentation by Toronto Public Health on the Cronut Burger incident which took place at the CNE in Toronto. Toronto is Canada's largest city with a population of 2.7 million and the CNE (an 18 day fair) attracts almost 1.4 million visitors each year. There are 1600 food handlers trained for this event, most of which are highschool students. The novel burger at the centre of attention was prepared on a croissant/donut pastry bun with cheese and bacon jam. Once the case was completed after an extensive and comprehensive investigation process, the lesson to extrapolate from this dealt with the need for any food company to be very cognizant of the ingredients you are putting together to produce a product - where did they come from, how were they handled, what type of food safety protocol is in place, etc. How do you know that your supplied product arrives safely? It was a great case study overview.
From a institution's perspective, attendees were challenged by a representative of the University of Guelph to "raise the bar for food science in education". She shared thoughts on pushing for a mastery in GFSI and HACCP programs and the need to get students interacting with industry.
There are 2 million food borne illnesses on an annual basis. During a panel discussion that followed on Collaborating Efforts to Communicate Information to the Public to Prevent Foodborne Illness, an excellent presentation by Brent Cator, President of Cardinal Meats, really put the focus on "accountability" when it comes to food safety. He mentioned that "building innovation bleeds through all aspects of an organization" and referenced some of the initiatives that they put in place from a food safety standpoint in that regard. Brent said that "food safety culture involves getting out of the box and that accountability has to reach beyond your business". He went on to explain the differences between raw steak and raw hamburger production and consumption and challenged the audience to tell 100 people about that difference. Brent's final statement was presented with a slide that showed an ostrich with it's head in the sand - "you cannot not know, what you now know" - and with food safety as our focus in mind, what are we going to do about it?
I was both pleased and humbled to have been asked to provide some opening remarks as Chair for Day 2 and those comments follow below:
"We are here today because of a willingness to stay abreast of the latest legislative issues, learn where we can from best practices shared by our guest speakers and connect with peers and potential suppliers - all in an effort to engage our companies, and our partners up and down the supply chain, on a path of Food Safety excellence.
I was listening to a company speak on the culture side of Food Safety not so very long ago, and in her presentation she mentioned that the focus was no longer about just making a good product - the focus now was building a real "culture of Food Safety" within our buildings. In their particular case, they had had a significant recall and that recall forced them to rethink and re-evaluate their processes and their behaviours. Today the focus of that particular company revolves around "engagement" - "gaining full engagement of all of their employees every single day". Should there be an issue relating to quality or food safety - employees are encouraged to ask a simple question: "Would I feed this to my loved ones?". This particular company has made it their goal to be a leader in Food Safety and Quality and they have ongoing and enduring commitment from Management encouraging achievement of those goals throughout the entire organization.
Maria Paula Stacchiola - and I am sure there are many others - re-iterated that same premise when she wrote:
With that simple statement in mind, as you consider your position in the value chain, what are you doing to make food safety a priority in your particular role, in conjunction with the business at large, with your customers and suppliers, your Sector, and those community partnerships and associations that you may participate in? How are you engaging your people and building a culture that will enable your company and Canada to continue to be a leader in food safety and safe food production around the world? James Beard a Chef and Food Writer wrote:
And if we consider that from a food safety perspective - wanting to grow and produce the best products in the most safest manner from farm through processor - and deliver through distributor to retailer and ultimately the consumer - adapting safe food practices and production involves all of us from farm to fork as often cited.
So as we hone and develop better methods, procedures, policies, legislation and regulations - we need to share those advancements with other companies, and with other countries - so that inevitably a culture of food safety becomes a universal experience that countries the world over embrace.
The 10th Annual North American Food Safety Summit presents a perfect opportunity to consider the next step in your journey to developing world-class best practices!"
Our keynote speaker of Day 2 was from Waitrose in the UK and addressed the audience on How to Transform Your Supply Chain. She recounted the recent horsemeat scandal and although their stores had no direct involvement in the case, the impact had an immediate effect on their sales as customers began purchasing from immediate local food sources. Ms. Duddle, our speaker, cited the impact of social media activity and you tube videos as part of the rapid decrease in sales. Her challenge was similar to that echoed in the case of the Cronut Burger in which processors must consider everyone in the value chain. Consumers need and want certainty. She suggested through sharing of information, disausive penalties, ongoing monitoring and origin labelling, we can create safe products and customer trust.
A panel discussion on Food Safety Culture highlighted that it was the number one topic to tackle from a GFSI perspective. Empowering employees to help reduce and mitigate risk will take food safety and health and safety protocols to a new level. There is a need to move from knowing to thinking and doing and solid training will be a critical component in guiding companies to this new level of awareness. Another panelist addressed the role of auditors citing that they are more like a "sponge than a tap" and how beneficial it would be for internal auditors to observe, absorb and practice from external auditors. Senior Management more often than not presents the bigger non-conformance - they drive the culture of an organization - and if not committed, the organization cannot succeed. The technique of auditing is not unlike "painting a picture" - and an audit trail is created.
Another very interactive panel discussion looked at ways in which you could Improve and Identify Food Safety Initiatives and featured speakers from Olymel, Backerhaus Veit Ltd. and Sarafino. Our first presenter from Olymel pointed out that we live in an environment where our customers are very concerned about both quality and food safety and the onus is on us as manufacturers to prove the product will be safe. Backerhaus Veit Ltd. spoke to the benefits of having information at your fingertips and the role that effective ERP systems can play from a traceability and process control standpoint in food safety initiatives. He too echoed the importance of management committment and empowerment of employees. The President of Sarafino discussed the five t's of tradition, transparency (traceability), timing, technique and technology. He also shared a powerpoint presentation on olive oil fraud that was quite enlightening. Three powerful presentations and great discussion opening up opportunities and ideas for participants to ignite in their own food safety programs.
We also focused on Global Food Policies with a dynamic speaker, author and Industry Expert - Dr. Charlebois from the University of Guelph. Dr. Charlebois told the audience that we need to be more proactive about managing risk in Canada. He cited a recent Deloitte survey that determined 60+% of companies "implemented a food safety system because of crisis management". Food integrity is becoming a huge issue and consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it is made and how to trace it. "Traceability allows you to guarantee label information is absolutely accurate". Our speaker mentioned that a new book was just released two weeks ago - "Food Traceability for Dummies" which stems back to the consumers desire to know as much information about their food purchases as possible.
Dr. Charlebois addressed Canada's position from a global perspective and benchmarking with other countries around the world. We need to learn from others. After viewing results from a recent survey of 21 countries, the Canadian and US mindset needs to be more progressive from a food safety standpoint and we need to look at traceability in a positive way. Technology will play a big role in this.
Our final session dealt with Regulation Compliance on a Restricted Budget with Monteforte Dairy Co. Limited and Kisko Products. Our panelists in this regard addressed the fact that managing new and existing regulations is a large ongoing task and as a small business stretches resources. Being able to tap into funding initiatives, training resources, accessing apprenticeship programs, and improving efficiencies and decreasing waste can all help.
There were countless other speakers and discussions and without a doubt, it was an excellent venue for opening up our minds on the depth and breadth of food safety related items. This was especially recognized by my young Mentee from the University of Western Ontario (Brescia College) who is finishing her fourth year and looking at a career in Food Safety. In her words, she never realized that there was so many different avenues available for her to persue as a career path in this field... for the rest of us, the challenge is to continue our journey's in an endeavour to be the best we can be from a food safety standpoint not only in our buildings, but up and down all aspects of the value chain... this is and will always be an ongoing continuous improvement initiative of the highest importance for anyone in or touching the food industry...
Hope to see you at the 11th Annual North American Food Safety Summit on March 2015 in Toronto. Special thanks to all of the Speakers, Exhibitors and to our Host, The Strategy Institute!
All the best,