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SQF Conference 2019: Embracing Difficult Food Safety Conversations

December 12, 2019

By: Adam Friedlander, MS, Manager, Food Safety and Technical Services, FMI

Amidst old friends and new colleagues, SQFI, a division of FMI, proudly hosted over 850 food safety professionals, including over 40 retailers, at the 2019 SQF Conference in San Antonio, Texas. This conference provides a variety of educational opportunities for SQF stakeholders in the auditing, manufacturing, retail and foodservice sectors. The global audience helps FMI and SQFI assess emerging challenges facing our food supply and workforce. While it can be easy to shy away from difficult conversations, FMI is proud to bring stakeholders together to help solve some of our industry’s greatest challenges.

While attendees learned about various food safety topics, I found the following three discussions to be especially important as the food industry moves into a new decade.

  1. Auditor Talent Pool: During the Stakeholder Feedback session, attendees determined there are not enough young professionals entering the auditing profession. While opportunities exist to enter the industry, there are significant gaps in recruiting, training and retaining young, motivated food safety professionals to conduct third-party or internal audits. The FMI Foundation helps address this need by providing the annual Food Safety Auditing Scholarship and Education Travel Grant to 15 academic scholars. In addition to the scholarship and mentor activities at the conference, SQFI has created a Hire A Scholar website to help certification bodies, auditing firms, retailers and manufacturers recruit previous scholarship recipients.
  2. Ethical Sourcing and Social Responsibility: Consumers continue to demand that suppliers and retailers improve environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards. At this year’s conference, government and non-profit experts discussed the threat of food fraud and forced labor within our current food system. To better quantify the food industry’s compliance with social and environmental standards, SQFI has released the Ethical Sourcing Certification Standard and Fundamental Factors for Social Responsibility (F2SR). While consumers and industry stakeholders continue developing methods to measure social and environmental impact, FMI is proud to work with consumers, industry, academia and government to continuously improve our system to identify and eliminate forced labor within supply chains.
  3. Improving the Safety of Romaine Lettuce: For as long as E. coli O157:H7 has been a known pathogen in food, leafy greens have been at risk of contamination. This year, FMI’s Chief Food and Product Safety Officer, Dr. Hilary Thesmar, moderated a panel on lessons learned from the most recent romaine lettuce outbreaks, consumer advisories and product withdrawals. Panel participants included representatives from the retail, auditing and produce industry. To help FMI and SQFI stakeholders improve the safety of leafy greens and protect consumers throughout the entire supply chain, FMI published the FMI Recommended Food Safety Practices for Leafy Greens.

Overall, the FMI Food Safety and SQFI teams are grateful to have learned from passionate food safety leaders. While identifying significant challenges in our industry is important, it is even more important to act and solve these challenges – together.

The 2020 SQF Conference will be held October 27-29 in Orlando, FL at the Hyatt Regency Orlando. Please look for more information on registration and program details later in 2020.

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