Advancing Food Banks

Food Banks Strive for the Gold Standard of Food Safety

An interview with GFN consultant Kurt Schultz, logistics and food safety expert

Upholding food safety is a major priority for food banks, as millions of people across the world rely on them as a source of safe, wholesome food. The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) helps member food banks ensure their food safety practices are up-to-date and adhere to the highest standards.

Kurt Schultz, GFN’s infrastructure, warehouse, and logistics consultant has 35 years of experience in the food industry in the areas of manufacturing and packaging, supply and demand planning, regulatory compliance, and food safety. He shares a bit about what GFN’s food safety work looks like in practice, including details about the new pilot program in Latin America.

What is food safety, and why is it a priority for food banks?

Food safety refers to the conditions and practices that protect the quality of food and the health of consumers.

There are specific guidelines for the safe handling of food referred to as Good Manufacturing Practices. These guidelines are generally a combination of specifications from the producer, food industry standards, and government regulations to prevent contamination and food-borne illness. While everyone in the industry is committed to food safety, food banks tend to serve more vulnerable populations, so it is arguably even more essential that food banks ensure that the food they distribute is safe and wholesome to consume.

Additionally, food safety is important for a food bank’s credibility with donors and to continue strengthening and developing relationships with partners. Companies that donate food and supplies need to trust that food banks will handle their products safely.

How is GFN prioritizing food safety with member food banks?

As part of GFN’s certification process, member food banks must meet food safety regulations that are a combination of local government standards and GFN’s recommendations. We closely monitor and audit members’ food safety compliance on a regular basis and provide technical assistance. For example, I recently consulted with two food banks on warehouse floor plans that meet specifications for safe food storage. We also visited a food bank to perform an internal audit and helped them improve their food repackaging process.

To improve food safety excellence beyond this, we launched a pilot food safety program in Latin America. The pilot includes member food banks Banco de Alimentos Perú, Banco de Alimentos Guatemala and Desarrollo en Movimiento in Guatemala, and Banco de Alimentos Quito and Banco de Alimentos Diakonía in Ecuador. The cohort meets weekly for training sessions on topics like safe food handling and processing, cleaning and hygiene practices, and pest prevention. Food banks may receive grants from GFN to purchase sanitation equipment and other infrastructure to achieve even greater food safety compliance.

After going through training and a series of self-assessments, food banks in the pilot program are prepared to undergo a rigorous inspection by AIB International, the industry leader in food safety audits. This provides food banks with a food safety benchmark equal to that of multinational food companies.

Not every company achieves AIB International certification, so a food bank that passes the inspection is held in high regard. When food banks achieve this certification, it strengthens relationships with local governing agencies that deal with food safety and can open doors for more product partnerships. This certification build trust in the food banking model as a safe way for surplus product to be distributed.

We recently had our first food bank in the food safety pilot program, Banco de Alimentos Perú, pass the AIB International inspection with impressive scores. Other food banks in the program are preparing to be audited this month. We look forward to continuing to build a strong food safety culture and expanding the program to achieve excellence across the Network. Ultimately, food safety one of the most important priorities for food banks and demonstrates their commitment to the health and wellness of the people they serve.

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