Dispatches from GFSI 2017 in Houston

GFSI on SENASICA, benchmarking requirements and Africa

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

More alignment on private and public food safety approaches

Related tags Food safety Government

The chair of the GFSI board of directors has told FoodQualityNews about partnering with a Mexican agency, updated benchmarking requirements and progress on the global markets programme.

Mike Robach, also VP, corporate food safety, quality & regulatory for Cargill, Inc. USA, spoke to FoodQualityNews at the Global Food Safety Conference in Houston, Texas. This is part one of a two-part series.

SENASICA partnership and the ‘G30’

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) announced a partnership with Mexican National Service of Health, Food safety and Agro-Food Quality (SENASICA) at the event.

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The organisations hope the cooperation of public and private entities will act as a model for other countries to adopt third-party certification to enable harmonisation of food safety systems and requirements globally.

SENASICA is responsible for the safety of fresh and minimally-processed food.

Responding to a question from FQN on past issues with cilantro, Hugo Fragoso Sanchez, director general de Inocuidad Agroalimentaria, Acuícola y Pesquera del Servicio Nacional de Sanidad, said Mexico exports a lot of produce.

"Two years ago Mexican cilantro was linked to a cyclospora outbreak. We knew Mexico needs to strengthen the possibility to control the growers and food safety," ​he said.

"We began working with the FDA after they stopped the exportation of cilantro. They evaluated our national control for cilantro growers and they approved the SENASICA and COFEPRIS (Ministry of Health) scheme for cilantro growers.

"The scheme began working last year and all the growers approved to export to the US are certified by the Mexican government. It is important to explain in SENASICA we have third party certification.

"FDA knows the way we are working with third parties and they feel comfortable. In 2016 you didn't have any outbreak in the US of cyclospora linked with cilantro. We think this is one of the explanations that the food safety control Mexico is supplying agreed with the FDA is working. This is an example that we can work together and we can involve in future the private schemes into this model."

Robach said it had been having conversations at the previous conference with national governments about cooperation.

“Specifically, with the Canadians and the Dutch government on a couple of different projects. So the Dutch and the Canadians got together and said lets convene a government to government meeting on the cusp of the Global Food Safety Conference,” ​he said.

“We supported that in helping sponsoring that meeting and we had 18 governments and governmental organisations come to Berlin. The dialogue was very positive, it is an opportunity for both sides to build trust with one another and allow us to make other governments aware of the work we are doing in the private sector.

“Based on that and subsequent conversations we were asked if we were interested in holding another meeting in Houston and we said yes. An interesting outcome of the Berlin meeting was SENASICA was part of that original group and we have had two follow up meetings with the Mexican government since that time.”

GFSI hosted 100 representatives from more than 20 countries and multilateral organisations ahead of the 16th annual conference to discuss better collaboration.

The ‘G30​ of food safety discussed how they view potential integration of private food safety assurance schemes within national control systems.

Robach told us it gives GFSI the opportunity to work collectively with governments but also individually to look at ways to collaborate on a local scale.

Countries included Japan, China, Mexico, Canada, UK and the US and multilateral organisations such as the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC, World Bank Group). 

Robach said the GFSI guidance document is based on the principles of Codex Alimentarius and takes a science-based approach to food safety.

“We work in a multi-stakeholder environment so we have farmers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and food service, we also engage other stakeholders such as NGOs, so consumers are a big part of what we do,” ​he said.

“We engage the academic community to bring the best science together so we can share that with one another. We also have a relationship with governments and inter-governmental organisations like Codex, OIE, WTO, FAO and national governments.

“The basic premise is to establish benchmarking requirements and requirements companies have to implement to have state of the art food safety management systems. Through our benchmarking requirements we have certification process owners who have developed audits against those criteria.

“They go into the facilities and evaluate not only the system in place but also the implementation of that system and companies can earn a certificate that identifies them as being compliant with the programme.”

Benchmarking requirements and Global Markets Programme

The GFSI Benchmarking Requirements Version 7 was published in February replacing version 6.4.

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Last month version 7.1 become available reflecting marketplace changes and stakeholder input.

“Some of the big additions are now we have a section around auditor competence so identifying knowledge and skills that auditors most possess to do a GFSI-benchmarked certification audit,” ​said Robach.

“We’ve added a section around food fraud, so looking at economically motivated adulteration which is an important element. We’ve also added elements to the programme that we believe help us align with government and consumer expectations as well and that work is continuing.”

Version 7.1 adds new clauses for each scope under Food Safety Management Requirements such as purchasing from non-approved suppliers and compliance with food safety legislation.

Robach said the Global Markets Programme was developed to provide tools to less sophisticated facilities and operations.

“We know for somebody to be able to achieve certification it is not something you do overnight, it takes time,” ​he said.

“We put a programme together that is a capacity building and training programme it gives these smaller and less sophisticated facilities tools that they can use to achieve a basic level, then an intermediary level and then finally full certification.

“So it is a roadmap to full certification. It really focuses in on risk, on getting basic GMPs in place and then it takes you to the next step where you incorporate HACCP into your systems and finally it takes you to full certification. It is also a great tool to use with governments as they are trying to build capacity in their markets.”

When asked about the lack of representation from Africa, Robach said it is challenging as a global organisation to prioritize where to spend time.

“Last summer the Consumer Goods Forum had their annual meeting in Cape Town, South Africa and we were able to hold a GFSI board meeting there. We have had a GFSI focus day in South Africa.

“[At the conference] we were able to meet with governments from Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon and Jordan and have a conversation with them about how we can better engage in that region of the world. I think you are going to see more and more effort going into capacity building and more cooperation as our supply chains continue to grow in Africa.

“[Cargill has] a huge cocoa and chocolate supply chain in Africa so we are working in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire in terms of modernising that system and we are working with governments. It is coming but we are actively looking for companies that are based in Africa to become part of the GFSI.”

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