Friday, 26 February 2010

Interview with Catherine Francois - Director Food Safety Programmes - Consumer Goods Forum

Catherine Francois is the Director Food Safety Programmes for the Consumer Goods Forum. Catherine is one of the food sector’s most influential figures in the area of food standards and schemes. She has played an integral part in the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) work on harmonising global food safety guidelines. We talked to her yesterday on some of the key food safety issues.

The podcast interview with Catherine can be listened to or downloaded here

Catherine started off by telling us some of the history behind the GFSI

Back in the year 2000, food safety was very much top of mind with consumers around the world, there had been a whole series of several high profile recalls, quarantines, and a lot of negative publicity in addition to food safety scares, such as BSE, dioxins and that sort of thing. The GFSI is actually managed by the Consumer Goods Forum, which is an international food business association working with retailers and manufacturers from around the world, and their CEO’s really took the decision that consumer trust needed to be strengthened, it needed to be maintained and at the same time the supply chain needed to be made safer and they saw the ideal way to do that was through the harmonisation of food safety standards, which could at the same time could also drive cost efficiency for businesses in the supply chain, and that’s really why the Global Food Safety Initiative was created back in 2000.
She also talked about the process that the GFSI has gone through in harmonising the world’s multiple food safety standards and schemes


If we go back to 2000, a lot of companies had their own internal food safety schemes, and we were actually seeing the migration of these internal schemes into national or regional schemes, for example, the British retailers all came together and decided to create one single food safety scheme for the UK, and this was also happening in other parts of the world, such as with SQF. So when we started the Global Food Safety Initiative back in 2000, what we actually started to do was look at about 200 different food safety schemes that existed around the world, and we looked at various options, including creating one single food safety standard that could be used internationally. After a lot of discussion and debate we decided that this actually would be very difficult to implement because of cultural and historical differences, and so we decided to move towards a benchmarking model. Essentially what we put in to place is the Guidance Document, our key tool within the Global Food Safety Initiative. The Guidance Document contains all of the key food safety requirements believed to be absolutely fundamental in managing food safety. These requirements are then used to benchmark existing food safety schemes and standards, to make sure that they meet these GFSI requirements and then we can determine the equivalence of the content of these schemes to the Guidance Document and communicate on the outcome.
Catherine is also responsible for the Global Food Safety Conference. She talked about the conference, including this year’s Washington D.C. event.

The Global Food Safety Conference was launched in 2001 and it’s really the platform where we invite all of the different key stakeholders who are involved in food safety to come together to really create a dialogue and also to try to build the foundations and the road map for moving forward, in terms of how we would like to see food safety managed around the world. It’s a platform for bringing together the public and the private sector, but also all of the different stakeholders along the supply chain. When we started the event in 2001, we had just over 100 people attending that event which took place in Geneva, and over the last nine years we have seen the event develop so that our recent event in Washington had 681 attendees from 39 different countries, so a truly international event and we very much hope that this will continue to grow as we move forward. We have been able to demonstrate the value of this event by providing the opportunity for individuals to come along and to exchange with their peers, to talk about best practices in food safety and to learn about the leading edge science and innovation in food safety that’s happening right now in our industry. This is an annual event and we are very excited to be able to host our next event in London in 2011, from the 16th to the 18th February. The theme of the event will be focused on Creating a Global Food Safety Culture and it will be our tenth event and as such it will be a celebration of the last ten years of the Global Food Safety Initiative.
This week, the GFSI approved FSSC 22000, the newest global food safety scheme. Catherine talked about FSSC 22000 and the work between the GFSI and the FSSC team
We have had a very productive relationship with the FSSC team over the last year or so now, with a very good dialogue during the benchmarking process to reach the full approval of the FSSC scheme against the GFSI requirements. The key to that has obviously been the dialogue with the manufacturers, who have been driving the process such as Danone, Kraft, Nestlé and Unilever, and who have really been able to build the support within their own communities for this scheme. GFSI is a multi stakeholder initiative, and so we very much value their input and their contribution in the development of this scheme, and the benchmarking process and we look forward to working with them moving forward. We look forward to seeing how it will be adopted in the marketplace.
Catherine talked about the importance of third-party certification in ensuring global food safety.
Third party certification is obviously key to the ongoing success of the Global Food Safety Initiative, and the schemes that are working within that framework. It allows for a consistent, global approach to be made to food safety audits, which can be more cost effective for businesses. Obviously, there are challenges that need to be overcome, I think the biggest one is the question of auditor competence, and we will be focusing hard on this in the future. One of our key objectives in the future is to be looking at how we can really build a consistent framework for managing auditor competence in the future, to make sure that third party certification, moving forward, continues to be a very credible option for businesses to use when they are managing food safety.

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