Friday, 5 February 2010

Final thoughts from Washington D.C. and the Global Food Safety Conference

The GFSI conference is my first food conference and one of the most interesting and valuable conferences I have attended. The sessions have been amazing and I have certainly learned a lot.
Over the past few days, I remembered a comment by Peter Drucker, “if you want to understand a problem, you increase the size of the problem to understand the complexities”, and that is what we have here in the food industry, lessons in business assurance and risk management that can benefit all industries. While managing risk and attempting to keep people safe and increase food safety, there is no margin for error.

For example, usually if you work on the quality and environmental side, there is some room for error, for example, even when pollution is released into a river, it’s not expected (good or bad) to kill immediately kill someone. Or, if there’s a rusty bolt, somebody isn’t going to have an allergic reaction and go into a coma.
But with food safety if one single person gets sick and goes to the hospital or one person dies from unsafe food, that’s just completely unacceptable. I think on the quality and environmental side many of our clients experience the same issues that our clients do on the food side, but not to the excessive degree. But there are lessons to be learned here…
At a high level, this conference is really leading the way in thought leadership and how our clients look at how their management systems can help them address risk in a progressive way I have just never seen in any other market segments.
One of my observations from the show, if I wanted to align LRQA’s Business Assurance approach to what many clients are learning and discussing here, is how a process type approach to food safety compares to a checklist approach.
Let’s take two examples and look at some of the key challenges our clients are facing at the show: 1. calibration of auditors and 2. the consistency of how these audits take place globally. If I just use these two examples, we see how difficult it can be to manage risk and make your organization bullet proof at a hundred percent. And although we know that vision may never be achieved, that’s what clients here are striving towards.
How do you achieve both calibration of auditors with global consistency? Simple answer is you can’t do it with a check list approach, it requires a process type approach such as FSSC 22000. Achieving these two objectives not only increases the benefits of food safety, but also business objectives. Understanding this is how you can achieve the economy scale of cost reductions that is going to make a company reduce costs.
In summary, it becomes apparent, very quickly, that a simple checklist based approach is not going to achieve these two objectives. This integrated food safety and business approach will allow clients to use their management systems to effectively manage food safety risks and grow the business.

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