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Key Takeaways from the 2019 Food Safety Summit
David Hatch

By: David Hatch on June 5th, 2019

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Key Takeaways from the 2019 Food Safety Summit

Food Safety

In early May, the 21st annual Food Safety Summit was held in Rosemont, IL, bringing together hundreds of leaders and key stakeholders from the government, regulatory and academia community, as well as retailers, food processors, distributors, food manufacturers, growers, food service companies, testing laboratories, importers and exporters, law firms and other food safety professionals. If you didn’t have the opportunity to participate in this industry-renowned event, there are some key takeaways you don’t want to miss.


For the past two decades, the Food Safety Summit Conference & Expo has been developed by the industry for the industry, enabling professionals to learn from their peers about cutting-edge solutions to address emerging issues, become certified in the newest courses available and see the latest technological advances offered by leading vendors. The Summit provides a four-day, comprehensive educational program to learn from subject-matter experts, exchange ideas and find solutions to food safety challenges, as well as tour an expansive Exhibit Hall packed with progressive vendors and exclusive networking events.


This year’s event introduced some new educational components, addressed emerging concerns in food safety and shed light on critical industry insights. Corvium was in attendance to both exhibit on the show floor and gather valuable learnings from speakers and attendees. Here are some of the most enlightening takeaways to share with you.


Standout Session on Food Fraud and Defense

On the first day of educational sessions, experts in the industry shared knowledge and vital tips in their presentation of Food Protection: Business Decision-Making for Intentional Acts Including Food Fraud and Food Defense. This panel discussion included speakers from academic, GFSI certification program owner, Certification Body and Chain Restaurant.


The presenters of the food fraud and defense session at this year’s Food Safety Summit reviewed and framed current requirements for addressing challenges, issues and clarifications of the new FDA's Food Safety Modernization Act rule: Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration (21 CFR Part 121) (IA Rule), as well as the more tactical and pragmatic issues of “how to start” and “how much is enough.” They shared their unique perspectives on how intentional adulteration as a food safety issue is transforming and how the industry should react.


SQFI, which manages and sets standards for the rigorous food safety and quality program recognized by worldwide retailers, brand owners, food service providers, and the Global Food Safety Initiative, issues summary data about each year’s audits. The most recent SQFI audit numbers reveal that the top category for major non-conformities is food fraud programs, and the top category for minor non-conformities is food defense plans. These findings reflect the industry’s current understanding (or lack thereof) of food fraud and defense needs.


Panel participants touched on this reality, illuminated new certification requirements and offered advice on how to prevent future non-conformities. They shared interesting points of view from several angles, including regulatory and business-related, and suggested tools to help attendees integrate proper protocol for addressing food fraud and defense challenges in the evolving food safety landscape. Ultimately, this is an area of food safety that industry professionals across the country (and globe) must prioritize and learn to manage effectively.


Blockchain Technology: The Discussion Continues

The term blockchain is all the buzz in many corners of the food safety industry. In fact, leading research company Gartner predicts that 20% of the top 10 global grocers will use blockchain for food safety and traceability by 2025. “Blockchain can help deliver confidence to grocer’s customers, and build and retain trust and loyalty,” said Joanne Joliet, senior research director at Gartner. “Grocery retailers are trialing and looking to adopt blockchain technology to provide transparency for their products. Additionally, understanding and pinpointing the product source quickly may be used internally, for example, to identify products included in a recall.”


Gartner explains that some grocers have already been experimenting with blockchain and are developing best practices. For example, Walmart is now requiring suppliers of leafy greens to implement a farm-to-store tracking system based on blockchain. Other grocers, such as Unilever and Nestlé, are also using blockchain to trace food contamination.


But as the concept of applying blockchain technology to the food industry becomes more prominent, and the benefits become more pronounced, not everyone understands the full implications. That’s why Blockchain Technology for Food Safety, presented by Sean Leighton, Vice President of Food Safety & Quality for Cargill, was such an illuminating session at this year’s Food Safety Summit.


Acknowledging the robust advantages of blockchain technology in revolutionizing food safety and traceability as well as promoting collaboration and communication between players in the industry, Leighton provided keen insight on the problems the food industry is trying to solve using blockchain. In addition, his session aimed to align industry thought leaders around the importance of data standards, data privacy and governance prior to launching a blockchain initiative. He provided high-level, cross-industry education on blockchain technology and identified significant issues for professionals to “watch out” for when selecting technology providers.


Driving Future Food Safety Progress

The world of food safety hasn’t been the same since the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak 25 years ago triggered a change in how both industry and government understand their responsibility to prevent foodborne illness. The process of change in policy and practices has been gradual but sustained, and driven forward by other catalytic outbreaks and contamination incidents – from peanuts and produce to melamine. The result is today’s significant alignment among government, industry, and consumers on the goal of prevention and the modern practices that can achieve it.


Nevertheless, preventable illness and death from foodborne hazards remains an unsolved public health problem and threat to consumer confidence in the food supply. The question addressed in the summit’s keynote address this year was: What Will Drive Future Food Safety Progress? Keynote Speaker Michael Taylor, Co-Chair of the Stop Foodborne Illness Board and Former Deputy Commissioner for Food for the FDA delved into what mix of bad events, consumer expectations, industry leadership, technological innovation, and public policy will steer progression, and questioned whether we can take food safety to the next level without waiting for tragic events to drive us there.


A newly released statement from Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, M.D., and Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas introduces steps to usher the U.S. into a new era of smarter food safety and introduces the FDA’s plans to develop a “blueprint” intended to further modernize and evolve the country’s approach to food safety. “This isn’t a tagline. It’s a pause and the need for us to once again to look to the future,” said Yiannas, during a town hall at the Food Safety Summit. “The food system is changing around us dramatically. Everything is happening at an accelerated pace. The changes that are happening in the next 10 years will be so much more than in the past 20 or 30 years… We have to try to keep up with the changes.”


Amid all of the thought-provoking presentations and discussions that played out over the course of this year’s Food Safety Summit, one thing was clear: Food safety has never been more important or more multifaceted than it is today, and professionals in every sector of the industry are challenged to stay current on their roles and responsibilities.


Corvium’s own Head of Compliance, Melody Ge, was impressed by the diversity in participation from professionals in not just the production and manufacturing arenas, but also more distinct food industry outliers like restaurants, airlines and even military foodservice departments compared to years ago. Food safety touches so many different junctures of the supply and service chain, and it’s essential for all parties to stay focused on the realities, challenges, and innovations at hand.


To systematically address each area of food safety responsibility in your organization, be sure to access your free checklist now.


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About David Hatch

Dave Hatch has spent over 30 years solving data management, information security and analytics challenges across multiple industries, including food/beverage, healthcare, publishing, manufacturing and financial services. As Chief Strategy Officer at Corvium, Dave focuses on the emerging digital transformation occurring in the food industry, and its impact on the advancement of food safety programs across the food supply chain.