The food industry faces rising food safety, environmental and social customer demands, tougher stakeholder and regulatory requirements, brand issues, impacts and growth and profitability concerns. As the food supply chain becomes more complex, the challenges surrounding brands, reputation and shareholder value inevitably increase.
At the breakout session on day two of the GFSI Global Food Safety Conference, being held in Houston, USA, the focus was on the role of certification in driving growth and capacity in the future.
The panel, which featured leading food safety experts from some of the world’s best known brands including Land O’Lakes, McDonald’s and General Mills talked about the credibility that certification delivers and how GFSI stakeholders are working together to improve customer confidence.
As Irene Rosenfeld, CEO at Mondelēz International said during the GFSC sessions yesterday, “The time to establish consumer trust is when there is not a problem. That is when you establish credibility.”
Linking back to yesterday’s focus on Auditor Competency, the panel addressed what happens when a customer visit reveals a weakness in the food safety management system that should have been identified by the certification audit and that could now call into question the validity of the audit result.
Auditor competency is a fundamental requirement for organisations serving the assurance industry. It should be noted that auditor competency not only refers to the ability of an auditor to perform a robust assessment; it also refers to the technical expertise of the auditor and their experience in the specific industries and sectors that they are working in. A thorough and probing certification process can only be led by auditors with in-depth knowledge and sector-specific expertise who are able to help food organisations minimise risks, improve systems and processes and delivers confidence for stakeholders throughout the food supply chain.
To these food organisations, large and small, certification is about a lot more than simply a piece of paper on the wall. They rely on the certification process to ensure food safety procedures are in place, but also to assess their business objectives, processes and management system. They need to trust their assessing bodies, and they need to have total confidence in the auditors.
Driving a positive food safety culture
In parallel, the importance of a positive food safety culture amongst employees was highlighted as being of key importance. As LRQA Managing Director John Rowley has stated throughout the 2017 Global Food Safety Conference, “The food safety culture of an organisation starts with the buy-in and support of senior management. Leadership has a fundamental role to play in driving employee engagement through individual and group values, attitudes, competencies and patterns of behaviour that deliver the commitment to any food safety programme.”
The changing face of assurance
The future of certification will become increasingly important in the future as the face of assurance is changing. Over the past few years, there has been a steady rise in the use of technology within the assurance arena. Organisations worldwide are proclaiming their commitment to having a strategic focus on being technologically enabled and agile. This means that assurance providers are at the forefront of embracing new technologies such as LRQA’s announcement in June of the adoption of the greenfence™ platform technology to facilitate the development of digital assurance services.
In the digital economy, platform ecosystems are nothing less than the foundation for new value creation. They offer unrivalled potential for connectability, scalability and interoperability of existing databases, schemes and systems and also for the future development and enhancement of assurance services across all industry sectors. This changing face of assurance means that as we move forward, we will see the blending of conventional assessment with digital monitoring and audit solutions that will enable the delivery of real-time assurance and insight, moving from a retrospective focus to predictive insight, from what went wrong to what could go wrong.
So a combination of robust auditing, transparency and a positive food safety culture underpinned with the adoption of new technologies and data, will work together to ensure that independent certification has a key role to play in not only driving brand reputation and credibility, but pivotally capacity and growth throughout the global food sector as we move through 2017 and beyond.