By Andrew Baines
This year I attended the SQF (Safe Quality Food) Institute’s SQF Unites conference along with Exemplar Global’s VP, Operations Adam Bannon in Orlando, Florida from November 6-9. The event was greatly successful and brought together more than 600 food safety community professionals including auditors, certification bodies, training organizations, food manufacturers, retailers and others in the food sector with an interest in food safety. Seeing this community of food safety professionals gather to discuss timely topics, share best practices, and support each other was a great experience and we were delighted to take part in the event and to sponsor the prestigious awards that SQF presented.
Exemplar Global has been fortunate to partner with SQF for many years to certify SQF food safety auditors and, today, we have a total of 779 certified SQF food safety auditors. Our role, as well as the certification of the auditors, is to encourage all our customers to engage in ongoing professional development. The food safety sector is an excellent example of why that is important. As a former food safety auditor, I can testify as to how much the science behind food safety has changed from the time I graduated in Microbiology to now. Since then, science has uncovered new hazards and risks and the need for auditors to keep abreast of emerging issues and solutions is constant. Events like SQF Unites are a crucial vehicle in keeping organizations and individuals connected and informed.
I would like to highlight two features from the event, without intending to take anything away from the excellent series of keynote speakers and presenters on a wide-ranging series of topics. However, the food safety sector, like many others, faces the challenge of attracting and retaining auditors. The profession has become more complex, with numerous regulations and standards, with many stakeholders of an audit all having opinions on the performance of the auditor, sometime from conflicting perspectives. Auditors frequently spend much time travelling and away from home and so, it is perhaps no wonder that it is difficult to attract new entrants. However, food safety is a critical discipline in facilitating trade and ensuring consumers are safe. It is the type of assurance that we all assume is there and take for granted but are often completely unaware of what goes into ensuring our food is safe. The reality is that it is the product of an entire infrastructure of regulations and regulators, standards and standard-setters, operations and practitioners, logistics and transport, retailers, and voluntary additional standard. And of course, auditors and conformity assessment bodies.
SQF showcased their scholarship recipients in Orlando, young people who have identified food safety as their chosen careers. These scholarships are invaluable, and I applaud SQF for their initiative to attract the next generation of experts to the sector.
As mentioned, Exemplar Global sponsored the awards for the event and I would like to congratulate Joe Wieland of Eagle Certification Group as winner of SQF Auditor of the Year and Karen Vanegas of The Hershey Company as winner of SQF Practitioner of the Year. Well done to you both. I also compliment all the finalists for these prestigious awards.
This event focused on food safety and those that are involved in food safety. But the same challenges face many other sectors. Attracting, retaining, rewarding, and recognizing those that specialize in any discipline, those that train, those that practice the profession, those that audit, be it a first, second- or third-party audit, all commit their careers to ensuring that trade is facilitated, and people remain safe. We owe a debt to the invisible work these professionals do.
Attending this event convinced me that our role at Exemplar Global – to recognize the achievement of people through certification; to certify those that train people and to encourage ongoing professional development of those we serve – is as much needed now as it has been at any time through our 30+ years of operations. With new areas of assurance constantly needed, such as Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), there will always be a need for competent, dedicated professionals and our role is to assist and encourage those professionals to be the best that they can be.
Thanks to SQF for the opportunity to sponsor this event and continue to partner with you in the certification of food safety auditors.
As a postscript to the event, Hurricane Nicole came through Florida and airports were closed for a couple of days preventing me and many others from getting out. A rare event, only the third time since records began in 1835, I believe that a Hurricane hit land. I wish well to any who suffered loss or damage through the Hurricane.
About the author
Andrew Baines is the President & CEO of Exemplar Global. Andrew has had a long-spanning career in auditing, including senior leadership positions in both technical and business development roles. As part of one role, Andrew served for about 10 years on the Board of Directors of Exemplar Global (when it was still RABQSA). In 2015, Andrew joined ASQ (American Society for Quality) as Managing Director of ASQ Global, ASQ’s operations outside USA. As Exemplar Global’s ‘sole member,’ Andrew continued to serve on the Board until accepting his current position.