Dispatches from GFSC 2016 in Berlin

GFSC Day 1 round-up: Auditor competence and role of big data

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Mike Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) presenting on Day 1
Mike Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) presenting on Day 1

Related tags Global food safety Food

Assurances on auditor competence, using ‘big data’ as part of a proactive system and food fraud featured heavily on the opening day of an international conference.

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) has assembled 1,000 food safety specialists from more than 60 countries in Berlin for the 15th Global Food Safety Conference (GFSC).

Mike Robach, VP of corporate food safety at Cargill USA, Cindy Jiang, senior director of global food safety and supply chain compliance at McDonalds, Professor Chris Elliott of Queen’s University in Belfast, and Mike Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were some of the speakers.

The conference addresses retail, manufacturing and food service representatives as well as international organisations, governments, academia, and service providers to industry.

Auditor competence spotlight

Robach, also newly appointed chairman of the GFSI board, gave an overview of the work of the Auditor Competence Scheme Committee (ACSC), saying an auditor is the person at the beginning of the process and all other stakeholders rely on their competence.

He said auditors must be competent with their independence and transparency clear for regulators and consumers and conflict of interest issues must be addressed with the increasing auditor need as GFSI grows.

An independent entity will administer the credentials to meet GFSI auditor requirements, an online knowledge exam must be passed to continue to the skill assessment part where auditors are witnessed by GFSI and all auditors will have their credentials re-assessed every four years.

In terms of timeline, he said the auditor competences are published, the knowledge exam is being finalised, the skills assessment part will be by September with the independent organization in place by the end of the year.

Robach added any auditor not performing well will be removed from the database so it is not possible to move from one certification body to another.

FoodQualityNews, a media partner of the conference, has and will continue to speak to a number of exhibitors so look out for those stories in the next few newsletters.

Other speakers included Guy Poppy, chief scientific advisor, UK Food Standards Agency, Paul Mayers, VP at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Bill Jolly, chief assurance strategy officer, New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries.

Food fraud opportunities

Professor Elliott said there are multiple food fraud opportunities in one commodity, giving the example of candy floss.

He said the sugar could be an issue – is it cane sugar and is it sustainably sourced or not, is the colour from an cheaper industrial dye or a legal food additive and is the stick food grade or not.

Elliott said currency fluctuations are a driver behind fraud and if the UK leaves the EU there would be a ‘fantastic opportunity’ for it to occur in the food supply system.

He said, in the UK especially, there was a race to the bottom with food sold as cheap as possible and during his work one person said: ‘If you don’t cheat, you go out of business’.

Other factors include criminal networks, an area Interpol is working on, and climate change with crop failures (such as olive oil in Italy and spices in South East Asia).

Delve into data to get preventative

Mike Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA, said data is in a broader context than just whole genome sequencing (WGS) as it could be used to make risk-based decisions and target resources.

“As we leap ahead with this exciting science we have work to do internally and with the food industry,​” he said.

Taylor and Guy Poppy spoke about ‘legitimate’ privacy concerns around data.

Poppy said other sectors are sharing data and it can be anonymised –giving an example of you having the key to your hotel room but not others, with someone having a key to unlock several doors to gather valuable data that could be acted on.

He also spoke about the usefulness of citizen science but warned when using people to help you answer things they could have agendas and selectively use data.

Paul Mayers, VP at the CFIA, said it is important to give industry the flexibility to decide how to deliver on expectations set by regulators.

He said they must take account of mitigation actions industry has applied throughout an establishment but it was not good enough to just have a good plan, it has to be executed.

Mayers said SMEs struggle in this area and need help.

“We recognise that, our interest is not just tossing out the rules and punishing those who can’t figure out how to implement them.”

Mayers said regulatory systems were proven at being reactive and it was not about taking away the action when something went wrong but it was a jointly better outcome if work was moved upstream and focus shifted to prevention.

GFSI is also introducing the first Technical Working Group (TWG) on food safety culture in the industry to address culture and behaviour.

The Technical Working Group will help develop guidance and implementation tools towards a common understanding on the topic.

  • Follow #GFSC2016 on Twitter for live updates from the conference or look out for 1-1 interviews on the FQN newsletters in the next few editions.

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