By Jaan Koel | Friday, 25 January 2013
John Keogh looks at what he does as more of a mission than a job. He resides in Newmarket, Ontario, and last year he spent the bulk of his time traveling the world to brief and consult industry, government, inter-governmental agencies and a host of think tanks on the subjects of food safety, global food safety training, food security, traceability, food recalls, and anti-counterfeit programs.
Keogh started with GS1 Canada in the summer of 2008 as a senior Vice President before taking on a more complex global role in 2010. He is now part of the global extended leadership team at GS1 working out of the Brussels HQ in Belgium.
Much of his travels are to developing countries. That’s partly because the things we take for granted in regard to how food is sourced, handled, manufactured, packed, shipped, distributed, sold and traced in Canada, the US, and other developed nations are still in their infancy stages in places such as China, India, and Indonesia, to name a few. Part of his job is to encourage these and other countries like them to adopt best practices as well as global standards and protocols as quickly and effectively as possible.
Looking at food safety through a global lens, Keogh says global food safety training tops the list not only in importance, but also in the direction that things are trending. “Organizations and governments everywhere are recognizing the fact that food safety is as much or more about training as it is about machinery, infrastructure, tooling, recall procedures, and other factors,” he notes. “Training is proactive; it’s about developing a food safety culture in a company, and in society as a whole.”
There’s a lot of money being spent in food safety these days, and industry observers expect there will be a lot more spent in the future—an estimated $18 billion by 2015. “Much of this money will be used to promote the culture of food safety. It’s going beyond signs and stickers in a processing plant to getting employees to really feel part of the system.”
Will increased spending in food safety put upward pressure on food prices? Inevitably, argues Keogh. But this will be outpaced by other factors such as population growth in India, China, Russia and other places with people becoming more affluent and looking for more protein rich products, namely meat, causing greater demand and higher prices in that and other segments.
As developing countries open their doors to more international trade, the big multinationals will continue to help bring much needed change. “It wasn’t until December 2012 that the Indian government finally allowed global retailers to enter that market,” explains Keogh. “To date, only about three percent of all food trade goes through organized outlets in India. As the global players enter, they will have a huge impact on increasing that percentage, and introducing global food safety training and education programs for farmers, global standards for food safety, training for producers and retailers, and many other things. It’s going to be transformational and will raise the bar in food safety for the developing economies.”
Keogh says he extends nothing but praise for the critical role played by the big multinationals—retailers and producers alike. “Of late, GFSI has reduced barriers by driving equivalency across different food safety standards. So far, the west has benefitted most from this. With the help of the multinationals, the developing countries can as well, and will be able to take advantage of this global momentum.”
Another trend is improved food traceability and the ability to recall unsafe foods quickly and effectively. In December, the United Nations FAO together with the World Health Organization set out new requirements and recommendations on how to build national food safety and food recall systems, including recommendations for properly identifying products, lots, and batches; who shipped what and to where; and conducting mock recalls. GS1 is involved in rolling out programs to promote this on a daily basis.
“In 2008, the US-based Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturing Association asked GS1 USA to develop an online notification tool to drive effectiveness and efficiencies for product recall,” says Keogh. “GS1, together with industry, developed what’s called ‘Rapid Recall Exchange,’ which is a global standards-based online notification form that can reduce the time it takes to notify all receivers of unsafe products and report back to government from 42 days on average to a matter of hours.”
RRE won the International Association of Food Protection Innovation Award in 2011. Close to 90 percent of food sold in the US can be managed under this system based on current signed up membership. “It’s a great achievement and demonstrates tangible industry leadership,” says Keogh. “More importantly it is a superb example of how food manufacturers and retailers rallied together with their associations and GS1 to further improve consumer safety. With 3,000 deaths in the US annually as a result of foodborne illness, it was necessary,” Keogh says. “Mass adoption of the platform and the underlying global standard is needed to improve effectiveness, lower costs, and save lives.” GS1 also developed the first industry standard for product recall in parallel and it was ratified and published in early 2012. The complimentary ISO product recall standard will be published in 2013.
The US leadership inspired other countries to follow suit. A similar standards- based online recall system is now in operation under GS1 Canada and called “Product Recall Portal.” A localized version also went live in Australia in 2011, and in New Zealand in June 2012. South Africa is set to go live in June 2013 and a pilot will start with German industry in Q1 2013.
Two things Keogh is particularly worried about is counterfeit foods and diversion of unsafe foods. “Counterfeiting is on the rise across all commodity groups and estimated to reach US $1.77 trillion by 2015 according to industry group BASCAP. Counterfeit foods pose a serious risk to public health,” he says.
“Meanwhile, unsafe recalled foods can also be diverted back onto the domestic or foreign retail markets, which adds additional danger. Improving both traceability and supply chain visibility can help.” Keogh says organizations should focus more on ensuring a closed loop system, where recalled products are taken out of the active supply chain effectively and destroyed sustainably.
Another global trend is increasing demand for product information. Consumers are demanding more detailed information about all products, especially food. Consumers want better information to make informed choices says Keogh. Having accurate nutritional information and listed allergens is vitally important, but consumers also want a level of transparency—knowing where the product came from (its traceability), and what ingredients and additives are in it , for example.
Talking about meat, another concern is what are animals eating, what drugs are they given and how will this affect health? “I was listening to a Dutch radio program in 2012 where hospital doctors said they were concerned about the usage of antibiotics in animals used in the food chain and they were very concerned about patients becoming immune over time.”
The work, and mission, for Mr. Keogh continues. As the world population expands, food safety, global food safety training, and food security will continue to be put to task in keeping pace with increasing food demand.
About the Author
Jaan Koel, is the Editorial Director for Global Food Safety Resource. In addition to managing GFSR’s editorial department, Jaan contributes to an number of other industry publications such as: Food Engineering, Green Manufacturer, Grocery Business and other trade magazines.
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