Food Safety Magazine reached out to Erica Sheward, director of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), a coalition of The Consumer Goods Forum, about the upcoming GFSI Conference, which is set to launch virtually on March 23, 2021, at 10:00 am Central European Time.


Food Safety Magazine: Could you provide an overview of the Global Food Safety Initiative’s purpose and goals?

Erica Sheward: The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is the world’s largest community to help achieve safe food for people everywhere. GFSI is a coalition of The Consumer Goods Forum, a global industry network working to support better lives through better business. GFSI brings together key stakeholders across the food industry, working to drive continuous improvement in food safety systems on a global scale.

Food industry leaders created GFSI in 2000 to find joint solutions to collective concerns and establish a collaboration to ensure safe food for consumers everywhere and sustainable food systems remains critical to what we do.

As a benchmarking organization responsible for the “what” of food safety, our main goal is to work together to set a benchmark for food safety certification standards, delivering trust, transparency, and confidence. We also work on various programs to build capability and increase dialogue between the private and public sectors.


FSM: What is the theme of this year’s GFSI Conference and what are the highlights of the program?

ES: This year’s theme is “Rethink, Reset and Recharge.” The food and drink sector has faced some of its biggest challenges over the past year as it weathered the impacts of the pandemic, and it’s been inspiring to see how people around the world have stepped up.

The conference will explore the most urgent topics in food safety—from COVID-19, supply chain disruption, and public health to building trust and transparency with consumers, as well as best practices, leading innovations, and technologies set to shape the future food safety.

Senior leaders and experts from Amazon, HelloFresh, The Coca-Cola Company, Mars, Incorporated, Cargill, Target, PepsiCo, Walmart, Queen’s University Belfast, Georgia University of Technology, and the World Health Organization are among those delivering talks and presentations.

With the conference taking place virtually for the first time, it’s easier than ever to get involved, which why we’re urging food safety experts across the world to join us in this unique forum.


FSM: This conference is known for networking. Given the need to make this year’s conference virtual, what should attendees expect out of the platform?

ES: We are delighted to bring the GFSI Conference to delegates virtually, respecting the safety of our community while continuing to advance food safety and trust worldwide. The event is set to still be an immersive and innovative experience, delivering networking without the carbon footprint.

Our platform will allow users to navigate a 3D world easily, interacting with members of the food safety community through voice, video, and movement in real time. Delegates will be able to use their personalized avatars to move freely around the conference, exhibits, and after-hour events, resulting in both spontaneous and organized networking opportunities.


FSM: Who should attend this event?

ES: We’d recommend this event to anybody in the food and beverage industry, from experts to decision makers.

We want people to come together to share food safety best practice and encourage ongoing collaboration at a time where it’s more crucial than ever. The past year has brought us challenges we’ve never faced before and the conference will be a great opportunity to discuss them at length.

We’re excited to have developed an agenda on both new and evergreen topics—from food technology to food e-commerce changes throughout the pandemic.


FSM: What are the main takeaways from the conference that you hope attendees will be able to use in their positions going forward?

ES: The conference promises to offer something for everyone. We have a jam-packed program covering a broad range of topics, from COVID-19 resilience stories to more practical sessions on future proofing food packaging. Each session will give our participants some food for thought as experts, leaders and academics showcase their examples of best practice.

The agenda has something for everyone, with speakers including well-known brand leaders such as Mondelēz CEO Dirk van der Put speaking about COVID-19 and Qu Dongyu, Director-General for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, giving a keynote speech.

Attendees will hear inspiring examples of leadership, ingenuity, and innovation, with expert speakers providing insights to address common challenges, helping to achieve the shared goal of safe food for consumers around the world.


FSM: What is your top reason why food safety professionals should participate in this event?

ES: Collaboration to ensure safe food for consumers everywhere and sustainable food systems has never been more critical—and this event provides a major opportunity to learn from an unprecedented period and move forwards in the best possible way.

We work to help make food safety everyone’s business. Too often, food safety is only high on the agenda when there is a food crisis—which needs to change. Each person involved in the process of getting food from the field to plate must understand their responsibility.

The GFSI 2021 Conference will be a source of innovation, collaboration and networking, focused on showing what we can achieve when we all come together. It is food safety at its best, setting a benchmark for excellence and trust.