Tim Ahn's FSMA FSSC Podcast Interview

Tim Ahn LRQATim Ahn, Senior Technical Manager Food Safety


February 2017

Tim Ahn's podcast interview:

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Welcome to the LRQA podcast series. Ahead of the upcoming Global Food Safety Conference we talked to Tim Ahn, Senior Manager Food Safety for LRQA Americas, about the emerging themes in food safety including technology, FSMA and FSSC 22000.

Well Tim firstly, it is a real pleasure to talk to you and I wanted to begin this podcast by talking firstly about technology, and technology is definitely beginning to lead to a shift in the world of food safety. Can you talk to us about the changes that are taking place in relation to e-learning, to remote assessment and to the possibility of organisations being able to view their entire supply chain virtually?


The technology is definitely branching across the world of food safety and as we’ll talk later, it’s not just in the area of communications and the ability to assess and also train but also in some of the tools around food safety are also developing and are really very interesting.

As far as the area of e-learning, remote assessment and the transparency for a supply chain, it’s really exciting. Let me talk first with the area of e-learning, I think e-learning is really allowing parts of the food industry to get access to information, to training, to information that never was able to have that access before and because I don’t see e-learning as really being a replacement for traditional learning. I still think you’re going to require the need to have traditional classroom methods and auditing classes and things like that.

However, there is part of the food chain in the supply chain, companies that are very small – small processors, farmers – that just do not have the ability to travel or the time to deal with the cost or expense to travel to get to training activities. Therefore, e-learning really brings this to these individuals, and allows them to get access to information that they might not have been able to do. And this is really important for food safety because the whole thing around food safety is understanding what the requirements are and understanding what the risks are and to do that you need a certain amount of knowledge and competency and this is a way of providing that. So it’s very, very exciting and I think a great advancement in the area of food safety.

The other thing that you talked about was remote assessment, and I really would tie remote assessment together with the ability to look at your entire supply chain. We have to remember today that the supply chain for food is incredibly complex, we talk about farm to fork you're looking at small processors and farmers through distribution systems, through very large manufacturers and processors and also small manufacturers and suppliers all the way to the ultimate consumer. And, to have the transparency that is vital because anywhere along that link if you have a problem, a weakness you can have an issue.

The issue that we have today is that we do a very, very good job looking at these large suppliers and medium sized manufacturers with traditional methods, but the issue is that the smaller processors or the smaller farmer we really can’t get to just because there’s so many of them. And I think remote assessment allows us to be able to do that, to gather information and to make determinations on how these stakeholders are able to manage their risk and conformance requirements. So yes, remote assessment and transparency will greatly enhance food safety and will provide a more comprehensive view of the supply chain.


Tim lets continue looking at technology. In the past, audit fatigue was often cited by organisations as an issue. How could the emphasis on technology help to alleviate this?


This is an interesting question because on one hand you have the need to get more information, to look more intensely at your functions within the organizations within the supply chain and this requires a lot more audits, a lot more visits. Therefore, suppliers get worn out or they use this term ‘audit fatigue’, which basically means that they’re tired of being continuously visited by organizations to gather the same information, so I think it is a real issue.

In the long-term, as we are able to use technology to connect information there may not be the necessary need to make as many frequent visits to suppliers and to locations and sites. Because this redundancy that you see with trying to re-gather the same information over and over again should be able to be made available to everyone who is purchasing or buying materials from that organisation.

However, saying that I think that is in the long-term; in the short-term we’re still going to have this issue, because the problem is that not everybody is bought in today and being able to share all that information. And one of the goals of GFSI was to have a reduction in audits and that you know once assessed that information be available and we really haven't realized that yet.

In the short-term, it is aspirational; in the short-term we’re still going to have the issue. I think it is probably going to be even more of an issue as we go through more scrutiny over suppliers and supply chains. However, long-term this is a solution and a way out of being able to avoid the redundancy in audits and as long as everyone within the supply chain is comfortable with sharing information, then you can connect it. Because the technology’s there to connect the information, it’s not an issue on technology it’s more of an issue with the ability and the desire of sharing that information. But I do think there’ll be a move to that, I'm just not sure how quickly that will be.


Right, Tim if we can now move on and look at FSMA, the US Food Safety Modernization Act. Why is it so important for organisations outside of the US to understand FSMA and to be ready for it?


There are two pieces to this. The first is the USA is a very large market and so as a large market there are many, many suppliers that are feeding materials into that market and part of the FSMA legislation or rules is this thing around foreign supplier verification. So the same rules that apply to domestic US suppliers are essentially going to apply to anyone who’s supplying materials into the market. Which means basically the entire world because the world is supplying materials, products into the US market so they’re going to have to be aware of that and going to have to be able to meet the expectations of that.

The other thing is that the US as being a large market is also seen as a place and particularly the USDA and US legislation where other smaller countries will mirror similar approaches and legislation. So many of the larger countries in the world already have very developed food safety legislation and you can argue in fact that many of the countries are probably more advanced than the US and that the US is really catching up with the rest of the world with FSMA. However, there are very many smaller countries in the world that don’t have very developed legislation or statutory approaches to food safety and will look to the US as kind of a model to build their programme. Therefore, because of these two things you know the US being a model for other countries and the foreign supplier piece, FSMA is incredibly important and everyone needs to really understand what’s in there and what it needs to do to comply with it.


Tim that’s a very interesting answer. Can you talk to us now about the importance of the latest FSSC 22000 update?


So FSSC, which is one of the benchmarked GFSI schemes, has continued to evolve over time as there’s been changes to or improvements and enhancements to the benchmarking scheme and also any development within the global food safety community around different approaches and things. So the one thing about FSSC it’s been very, very responsive in being able to make sure it’s updated into these changes.

This last set of revisions which is version four is very important because there’s a couple of key aspects to it so one is the concept of unannounced audits, and this is something that many of the other schemes have already had that FSSC did not. So this is a change that FSSC is becoming more aligned with some of the other benchmarked schemes, so unannounced audits is pretty significant.

And then the whole area around intentional contaminations. So you know around people or organisations need to protect themselves from intentional product contamination, this is another very important piece in development that the scheme is putting in place.

In addition to that, the timing for this revision also aligns with some very important changes to something called ISO 22003, which is a foundational standard that sets up things for like changes in categories for food groups, food sectors, duration of audits and time that an assessor needs to be within a factory, on the factory floor. So these are very important changes and these changes in this foundational document ISO 22003 plus the changes in version four really help again boost and support this very important scheme. Making sure it’s aligned with GFSI benchmarks and also being a robust and modern to the things that are going on and particularly things like the Food Safety Modernization Act in the US.

So this is a great thing, it’s a good thing, it’s a big change and I think the certification bodies and also the clients will have to you now make some changes in terms of how they react and how they respond to these, particularly around unannounced audits because this will be a big change. But I think it’s a good change and it really speaks to how well FSSC is as a benchmark scheme.


Now Tim could we start to look at or could we look at GFSI, GFSC and food safety themes and I just wondered, what are the themes that are dominating food safety today both in the US and globally?


Sure, we’ve already spoken a little bit about the impact of the US Food Safety Modernization Act and I think that is probably the number one theme that you're going to see and everyone is now realising that you know for the preventative controls for food are in play, so they now need to be followed. The foreign supplier verification work is also, the requirements are also coming on board. So I think if there is one thing that you're going to hear and particularly as the conference comes up here you know later this month it’s going to be FSMA and how that impacts food safety.

But there are also a couple of other things next to FSMA that maybe don’t necessarily get the headline attention but they’re incredibly important and the food industry knows about this and are very concerned and are very active in this area. And there are two areas, and they’re linked, that I want to highlight and the one is the emphasis on environmental pathogen control within manufacturing facilities. So there’s been a big emphasis and particularly in the US through the regulatory activities around how are manufacturers controlling the environment particularly for the control of pathogens such as listeria and salmonella.

So it’s very, very important because this is not only changing the way companies act in terms of cleaning and scheduling factories and designing equipment. But also how they verify, what they do around testing and then also how they respond and prepare themselves for any sort of regulatory inspection so a really important area.

And related to that also is the technology around whole genome sequencing which really ties together with this environmental pathogen approach, because now the tools are out there to be able to clearly link pathogens that are in food products to environmental pathogens. And when you can bring that connection together then you're able to really ask some serious and significant questions around the control and those sorts of things.

So, FSMA is clearly an important dominating topic, but also this thing genome sequencing and environmental pathogen control is also really important and if you look in the US there’s been some real, recently there’s been some real significant recall enforcement activities that link to these two.

And companies need to think about you know are they prepared, do they really know what’s going on in their own environment and are they prepared to react when they have an issue and what’s a result of that. So to me those are just some of the dominating themes in food safety today.


Thank you Tim, a really interesting answer. And looking back at the last five years, over the last five years what would you say have been the most significant developments that you have seen in the world of food safety and how about the changes to the GFSI and GFSC and to its members focus?


Building off of the same kind of themes that I talked about earlier around what’s going on out there today has been building over the last few years so the Food Safety Modernization Act is not something that just happened this year, it’s been in play and building for a number of years. So that’s been growing and that’s a pretty important development.

The use of technology in terms of you know whole genome sequencing and environmental monitoring those things have also been building. But in addition this concept of really understanding supply chains, having transparency to supply chains and really realising that you're only as good as the weakest link in your supply chain has really now I think been viewed and been understood and appreciated within the industry. And what this has resulted in is now more focus on verification of those supply chains, which again goes back to audits and things like the GFSI benchmarked schemes. And when you go to the conferences and you look at the activities and you look at the things that GFSI is doing it’s really around linking together all those pieces of the supply chain. So where you know maybe ten years ago it was very much the retailers having a need to have standardised audit approaches and then you saw the introduction of the suppliers and the manufacturers because they really wanted to have a voice at the table through this. Now I think you really see all aspects of the food supply chain, so its suppliers, its producers and manufacturers, its retailers but it’s also things like CB’s like our group. Academics, you're now seeing much more involvement from academia and seeing this is already coming into the GFSI being the primary centre and voice for food safety discussions within the world. So it’s really been a build-up but I think this thing around a connected supply chain is a really valuable one and one that now you're starting to see a lot of activity around.


Tim and if we look at as you’ve just mentioned the changes and developments, how have they impacted the importance and the benefits of assessment, certification and training for food safety professionals and organisations in the food sector?


Absolutely important and vital and I think those three areas that you mentioned are the right ones and they’re linked. If you start with assessment, the need to really understand and verify your supply chain is important and you can no longer just purchase materials from locations that you're not really sure you know what’s going on, you need to understand them and things like the Food Safety Modernization Act require you to do that. So that’s really important and then how do you do that. Well one of the best ways to do that is to go and be certified to a scheme and I think certification not only provides you with that confidence of what you're purchasing but certification also provides a level, it provides independence which is really important when you're looking at creditability. So when you want to be able to have a credible assessment of the part of your supply chain having independent verification is very, very important because it basically says that you’ve brought somebody in who is an expert who has the ability to be independent of the parties involved and really did an assessment. So certification and assessment are really critical and I think you can see as the number of certifications has increased and continues to increase as the schemes expand, this becomes a very, very valuable tool.

Then the other piece of this is training and it’s very important because you need to understand what you're doing and so these schemes are complex, the approaches for how you implement them can be challenging, and so you need to really understand what you're doing. And I think as I say, in the past the larger companies had training, understood, had the ability to do that. Now what you're seeing is as the supply chain becomes more transparent and extends, everybody in the food chain needs to be trained and so I think there’s a desire and a need to make sure that this training is available, it’s effective. So there’s been a big need and a big pull from all sorts of individuals to get more training and provide that whether its auditing training, whether its scheme training or more fundamental how to assess hazards and basic things around food technology. So you have the convergence of assessment, certification and training all coming together and I think organisations are going to have a need for that and continue to do that.


Thank you for listening to the LRQA podcast series. For more information on LRQA’s food services, visit Food Safety. The Global Food Safety Conference is being held in Houston, Texas this year and runs from February the 28th through to March the 2nd. For more information visit www.mygfsi.com.