Preparedness is by definition being in a state of readiness, especially for war. But what war is Freshcare preparing for – is it a war on waste, a trade war, cost-cutting, sustainability?

As Freshcare celebrates its 20th Anniversary we are reminded of the old Chinese proverb “To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.”

This wasn’t really relevant to Freshcare 20 years ago as there was no-one to ask! Today is quite a different story as Freshcare continues to lead and innovate within Australian food safety standards.

In those early days, what we were actually preparing for was a practical, cost-effective mechanism for industry to use if and when they needed to prove their practices on-farm, from site selection, through to crop production, packing, storage, and distribution of fresh produce.

When Freshcare was established in 2000, nobody could predict that 20 years on, a program that was funded by industry would still be owned by industry, operated for industry, would remain self-sustaining and still be relevant to consumers, supply chain businesses and have retained as much as possible practical, cost-effective mechanisms for industry to use to demonstrate compliance.

Last year some 4000 businesses achieved certification against at least one Freshcare Standard be that food safety & quality, supply chain, or environmental offerings for both the fresh produce supply chain and the viticulture sector. By our best estimates, this represents 75% of the fresh produce sector in Australia, with close to 400 new businesses becoming certified each year for the last two years.

It is in this context that Freshcare’s responsibility to be prepared is most clear. As an organisation we have a lead role in ensuring Australia’s fresh produce supply chain operates against robust standards that are underpinned by the best available science whilst retaining our practical, cost-effective approach to compliance.

Never before have consumers demanded such high levels of transparency, accountability, and sustainability across the products they purchase from retailers. Traceability is no longer just something that is implemented to enable product recalls and withdrawals. Customers expect that the businesses they buy from have a genuine commitment to addressing what they see as key consumer issues.

Our role at Freshcare is to support the industry in establishing, maintaining, and improving standards that deliver on these consumer expectations for the benefit of our participating businesses that is – ensuring we work with key industry stakeholders to ensure you continue to have access to the increasingly global food supply chain.

At Freshcare we aren’t standing still, in the last three years we’ve delivered the transition from a private standard to an accredited standard under JAS-ANZ, our GFSI benchmarking is completed and our GlobalGAP benchmarking process is nearing completion.

Freshcare is and continues to be prepared to invest to ensure our standards are relevant for the Australian industry and your supply chain customers both domestically and internationally. More importantly, as an organisation we are working with our partners and equivalent certification program owners globally to adopt and deliver technology solutions that provide efficient, timely information, valuable insights, and make our standards more accessible to our participating businesses.

Our eLearning platform has been well received and the take-up, particularly for those businesses located in remote areas that find it difficult to attend in-person training, has been significant. This platform works in conjunction with our trainer network to ensure every participating business has access to the training they need to support their implementation of Freshcare for their business.

Today the compliance family has grown beyond our wildest dreams and food safety is finally an agenda item for every level of government and for many commercial businesses. But at the same time, we all realise that there are things on the horizon that we aren’t prepared for yet.

Real-time information collection and analysis of that data will enable our participating businesses to collect, report and take action to correct issues much sooner than they currently can. Recently released 5G networks and technologies will enable the mass capture and communication of data from your in row sprinkler to the fleet of trucks that are delivering your product from farm to supermarket.

The ability to capture this data is one thing, our role as Freshcare is to ensure that our standards keep pace with this change and allow you to share this data in a safe and effective way to demonstrate ongoing compliance with our standards. In the medium-term future,  the point in time audit will cease to exist in favour of real-time risk analysis and assessment.

The advent of wearable technologies like Microsoft’s Hololens 2 will transform how we work in the short term. It’s application for Remote and Witness Auditing is just one example of the way technology will transform our approach to auditing and compliance.

But this technology is not just applicable to auditing, although this is a logical starting point. The ability to provide feedback to operators on equipment and machinery as they undertake specific activities highlighting and addressing food safety, quality and environmental risk factors in real-time as they progress through their day is an exciting innovation.

Imagine recording your equipment cleaning process with specific focus areas tagged for the operator based on your previous risk assessments, or recording that cleaning was undertaken without a single form or document to complete – this is possible now with existing technology.

Proving your practices on-farm is changing, the rapid pace of change in technology will challenge every single person and organisation to understand and apply these rapidly changing developments.

Preparedness is key, we need to be prepared to understand in depth the applicability of these technologies, support you, our stakeholders, and participating businesses as you trial and implement them and ensure that above all else, our standards remain practical, cost-effective and underpinned by science.