Flying the standard for food safety

2 March 2019

Food safety continues to be front of mind for brands worldwide, and for good reason. The time and money spent on developing a brand and market can be astronomical, and it only takes one contamination case to risk a shutdown. Matthew Rogerson takes a look at what executives from Nestlé, Sainsburys, Auchan and Danone are saying about how leading companies address food safety in packaging.

Though most readers are likely to be highly knowledgeable on most packaging subjects, it is important to get some perspective when it comes to some numbers in food safety. For example, there were over 350 recalls in the US by the FDA, of which only 18 resulted in what the FDA consider to qualify as an outbreak (where two or more people get ill as the result of the same contaminated food or drink). For the EU, there was a record 818 alerts in 2017, although only about 60 cases where two or more people affected.

Food is an incredibly fast-moving sector, as Anthony Huggett, vice-president of quality management at Nestlé, knows too well. A member of the board of directors for the global food safety initiative (GFSI), he first became involved with the association in 2012 “as the freshly appointed global head of quality management, eager to learn and gather insights into how other companies manage food safety,” according to Huggett himself in an online article for MyGFSI.

From this auspicious start, “Nestlé has incorporated several elements from GFSI into its own quality management system, including the recognition of suppliers’ GFSI-benchmarked certification and the incorporation of the GFSI Global Markets Programme into the existing supplier capability building programmes,” Huggett wrote. “Being a major contributor to the development of PAS 220, we had already required FSSC 22000 certification for all of our own manufacturing sites. My interactions with food safety managers from other companies illustrates the significance of this topic. Food safety culture interests me deeply. As a multinational manufacturer with enormous global reach, selling 1.3 billion products each day, Nestlé has no leeway to take food safety culture for granted.”

According to Huggett, Nestlé works directly with more than 10,000 tier-1 raw material and packaging suppliers to create a comprehensive range of food and beverages that are sold in 189 countries. As a result, he believes that the company has the responsibility to ensure that there is the required level of food safety awareness through every link in this complex value chain. “In our upstream value chain, we rely on our suppliers and their suppliers to implement food safety measures while producing the materials and ingredients that we use,” Hugget said.

“The downstream value chain is equally important; some products can be sensitive to temperature and other factors as they travel from our manufacturing facilities to reach our consumers, so having the right relationship and building the food safety awareness of our distributors and retailers is critical.”

Nestlé has always taken safety seriously and had its own programmes prior to joining GFSI. However, the adaption of the Global Markets Programme – a stepwise food safety capability building path towards GFSI certification – complemented existing systems. Today, they have incorporated the Global Markets Programme within supplier food safety development activities in several markets.

Collaboration is the key, as Huggett continues, “Using the Global Markets Programme and the GFSI certification approach reflects the non-competitive, knowledge-sharing ethos we have incorporated into our food safety management practices. While the capability building and auditing systems we used previously were effective, they were exclusive; suppliers could not always use them to demonstrate the compliance of their food safety practices to other manufacturers. Now they can show the steps they have taken using the Global Markets Programme towards certification and continue to work in the same direction with the new partner.”

He concluded, “Of course, competition is part of a manufacturer’s modus operandi; we want to produce the best food, reach the most markets and satisfy the broadest range of consumers. Even as we collaborate non-competitively to improve the safety of the world’s food supply, it is important to remember this approach can help manufacturers to sharpen their competitive edge. By leveraging uniform certification we can cut the time and money spent on superfluous audits, reduce the total cost of materials, provide more confidence in suppliers through compliance and thereby enjoy more flexibility in sourcing by building a wider potential supplier base.”

Products sold by Nestlé every day.

Food retailers and manufacturers

For a combined perspective of a food retailer and manufacturer, Frédéric René, chief food safety officer for Danone, France, and Pierre de Ginestel, quality director for Auchan, France, described their takes on the subject in another online MyGFSI article.

“Despite being from different parts of the supply chain, it is interesting how much we have in common,” states Ginestel. “We both deal with suppliers, for example, and must maintain food safety up and downstream in the value chain. In addition, as French natives it is also important to highlight the importance of food to our culture. Cuisine is one of the pillars of French culture, as UNESCO recognised when they inscribed the ‘gastronomic meal of the French meal of the French’ in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. As one would expect of a country so concerned with food, some of the most important technological revolutions in food safety began in France. In the early 19th century the confectioner Nicolas Appert invented ‘appertisation’, a method of airtight food preservation that remains indispensable to industrial canners and home picklers alike. Decades later, Louis Pasteur gave us pasteurisation, which saved countless people from food poisoning, as well as once-pandemic diseases like tuberculosis and scarlet fever.”

“As retailers, we might come from different parts of the world, but we have common challenges. Understanding these challenges and the opportunity to share innovations and solutions in a collaborative forum is a key tool in our management of food safety.”
Alec Kyriakides, Sainsbury’s

René continued, “Our CEO, Emmanuel Faber, is convinced that no business in the food industry can survive without placing a priority on food safety alongside nutrition and taste. With his and other CEOs’ active participation in food safety matters, there is a phenomenal opportunity for innovation and catalyst for growth as we develop safer higher-quality food for our consumers to enjoy.”

New developments, challenges and technologies

Finally, Alec Kyriakides, head of quality, safety and supplier performance at Sainsbury’s, UK, also had some thoughts on the topic, published in a different MyGFSI online piece. “As retailers, we might come from different parts of the world, but we have common challenges. Understanding these challenges and the opportunity to share innovations and solutions in a collaborative forum is a key tool in our management of food safety. At Sainsbury’s, for example, we’re addressing rising concerns about allergens with an online app that allows consumers with dietary requirements to find products that meet their needs by highlighting anything unsuitable.”

Kyriakides noted that one of the most productive areas for collaboration is data sharing. As retailers, Sainsbury’s and its competitors collect enormous amounts of data on product performance, shopping trends and every link in the supply chain. Data sharing throughout the supply chain can draw ever-richer insights about food and ways to make it safer, and the use of new approaches to sharing data – including via novel platforms such as blockchain – has become a major topic of discussion among retailers.

“Gathering together also gives companies the opportunity to hear about the latest technologies and how they can be best put to use by retailers and other stakeholders to support safer food for their consumers,” Kyriakides continued. “Technological advancements can present new challenges to retailers, such as when precise detection techniques reveal chemical or microbial hazards that were previously overlooked. When we meet there is a non-competitive forum where retailers who have encountered these challenges can share tips on prevention and mitigation to make the field safer and more efficient as a whole.

“Retailers also face problems regarding new attitudes towards existing technology, such as plastic packaging, which has served the industry well for food safety applications but comes with environmental impacts too serious to be overlooked. As the head of safety at Sainsbury’s, Britain’s secondlargest supermarket group, I have a particular emerging issue ahead of me: Brexit.

“A large proportion of Sainsbury’s products, including perishable foods, originate in the EU, and so whether we’re in or out of Europe, maintaining links with food safety professionals will be key. These links will only increase in importance over time.”

He finished by stating that partnerships are not limited to other retailers. “We can make equally, if not more, important connections with food safety stakeholders in other sectors. Governmental regulatory agencies and retailers can communicate with representatives from these agencies to work together towards the common goal of making food safe.”

What is PAS 220?

PAS 220 is a prerequisite programme specification (PRP) which has a new name: ISO/TS 22002-1. Prerequisite programmes are programmes and practices put in place to address the role the production environment plays in producing safe food products. Many companies have good manufacturing practices (GMPs) in place; these would be part of the prerequisite programmes.

PAS 220 was developed to provide specific prerequisite programme requirements for food processors and manufacturers. The PAS 220 has now been withdrawn and replaced by ISO/TS 22002-1, which has requirements identical to those originally published in the PAS 220. The requirements of ISO/TS 22002-1 must be addressed by companies preparing for FSSC 22000 Certification, and is an excellent document to use to develop PRP programs for any food manufacturer or processor. In order to prepare for certification companies will need to have documentation that specifies how the activities included in the PRPs are managed.


What is GFSI?

During the ‘90s, there had been a series of high-profile international food safety crises including BSE, dioxin and listeria. Within the food industry there was a growing audit fatigue as retailers and brand manufacturers audited factories against their countless in-house standards, each developed in isolation and with no consideration of convergence. The results showed no consistency. Consumer and food industry confidence was low.

The CEOs of the world’s food retailers, working through their independent network CIES – The Food Business Forum, now the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) – agreed to take collaborative action. In May 2000, the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), a non-profit foundation, was founded. The GFSI brings together key actors of the food industry to collaboratively drive continuous improvement in food safety management systems around the world.

With a vision of Safe food for consumers everywhere, food industry leaders created the GFSI in 2000 to find collaborative solutions to collective concerns, notably to reduce food safety risks, audit duplication and costs while building trust throughout the supply chain. The GFSI community works on a volunteer basis and is composed of the world’s leading food safety experts from retail, manufacturing and food service companies, as well as international organisations, governments, academia and service providers to the global food industry. The GFSI is powered by the CGF, which also works to support Better Lives Through Better Business.


The Global Markets Programme is a stepwise food safety capability building path towards GFSI certification.
Nestlé employee inspecting goods on the production line.

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