Food safety, plastic packaging and blockchain were key topics discussed at an industry event this past week. The Future Food Conference was hosted by the British Standards Institution (BSI) in London, United Kingdom.

In opening remarks, Richard Werran, BSI director for food, said the industry is often reactive and not proactive.

“I wish industry would go toward problems and look at them as opportunities,” he told attendees.

“The industry would achieve more through collaborative working, it is something we don’t do particularly well. Compared to aerospace, medical and automotive we are 10 years behind in collaborative working through supply chains. In the food industry price often seems to be the most important thing.”

Denis Treacy, Pladis global chief quality and safety officer, said a food safety culture is important to reduce risk exposure and potential brand reputation damage. Pladis, which has two factories in the United States, makes biscuits and confectionery including the McVitie’s and Godiva brands.

“We can invest money in food safety but it doesn’t stop people behaving naturally. You need to change the way people behave to make real change. Investment into managing a system will have some affect but the majority will be by behavior,” said Treacy.

“We assess whether factories sit in dependent (a dream/rules and supervision), independent (a goal/taking care of yourself) or inter-dependent culture (a choice/taking care of your friends). We have four principles: We map local culture (GOYA), performance (zero defects), policies (alignment across the world) and organizational structure (leadership). We measure failure such as complaints, incidents, accidents/prosecutions and recalls and target success through hazard removal/risk and gap assessments, training and compliance to specifications and standards.”

Treacy also addressed food crime when speaking on a panel discussion about the future of food safety.

“Food crime for us is paying for and not getting sustainable palm oil. We go out to Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and do everything in our power with the resources we have to drive ethics and values. We source globally with 1,600 ingredients coming into our factories each day. There is a financial gain in food crime to sell cheaper product. For us that is sunflower oil, cocoa beans, macadamia nuts so we focus on where the opportunity presents itself.”

Andy Morling, head of the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) National Food Crime Unit (NFCU), said prevalence of food crime is unclear.

“Prevalence is hard to establish, based on reported incidents some figures say 5 percent of revenues are lost to food crime. A lot goes unreported, the majority deal with it contractually and NFCU never hear about it. This means the offender may continue to offend somewhere else and we get no figures on prevalence,” he said.

“Olive oil is mentioned a lot for fraud and other parts of industry are never under scrutiny but they are affected. We use criminal profiling to see what makes products or businesses more vulnerable, formal and covert sampling and recruiting informants within food businesses.”

Morling said geographical and political events can also drive fraud.

“There is never one 100 percent solution to any crime problem. There are new risks that exit from the European Union may bring around import and export protocols, there are always people looking to make money out of such situations.”

The NFCU recently secured £5 million ($6.6 million) in funding and Morling said it was recruiting 60 staff ahead of Brexit to deal with potential additional and different risks.

Also on the panel was Helen Munday, chief scientific officer at the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

She said businesses are proactive but, giving the example of shortages in food-grade carbon dioxide earlier this year, some things are not in its direct control. Carbon dioxide is essential across a range of products and used in modified atmosphere packaging to extend shelf life.

Donna Champion from Nottingham Trent University said blockchain could help the food industry when used with other technologies and if information was shared.

Champion said there are open distributed ledgers like bitcoin and ethereum and private or permissioned distributed ledgers that have membership only networks with validation as a member of that community needed to participate. They also have layers of permission to control who sees the transaction record.

She said if used with devices such as sensors, detectors and smart packaging, blockchain could help supply chain transparency, prevent food fraud, ensure regulatory compliance, help mitigate unnecessary withdrawal of products during a recall and reduce cost through information exchange and better data analysis.

Examples of blockchain include the partnership between IBM and Walmart and TE-Food in Vietnam.

David Fatscher, head of market development and sustainability at BSI, said standards represent “what good looks like.”

“Standards are voluntary and not regulation but they can support organizations in managing their compliance to regulation. Food safety is heavily regulated and standards play an important part. There are many standards in the farm to fork journey – testing methods, logistics, retail and manufacturing. The challenge is when moving into areas of sustainability and of business need which are less obviously measurable.”

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer Insight at Kantar Worldpanel, told attendees about the latest food industry stats and trends for 2019. McKevitt said consumers are demanding speed with changing behavior when it comes to supermarket, online and discount shopping and eating out.

He said trends for next year include demand for healthy food, which means different things to different people, will continue growing; technology such as online grocery shopping will evolve but physical shopping will continue and product experiences such as personalization, an items’ backstory, social responsibility and out of home experiences will become more common.

Other speakers included Joanna Griffiths, packaging technical manager at BRC Global Standards, Tom Hallam, business development director for end user management at BillerudKorsnas and Nick Coleman, founder and CEO of Snaffling Pig.

BSI has already decided to schedule the event again next year with more information here.

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