Karl Thorson takes the journey toward perfection

by Dan Malovany
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Karl Thornson continues to push General Mills to greater levels of food safety.
 

Food safety and sanitation are so important to General Mills that they are an integral part of its 2016 “Global Responsibility Report.” In 2015, the company spent $13 million on food safety, more than 10% of the essential capital investment it spends on average each year for food safety-related projects. The company has more than 600 trained, quality professionals and 55-plus certified, quality engineers monitoring food safety worldwide. And 100% of its facilities were audited using globally recognized food safety criteria (excluding its Yoki division) while 90% of its facilities are audited and/or certified by third parties.

Still, there is room for improvement, according to Karl Thorson, food safety and sanitation manager. “Food safety is always a journey,” he likes to say.

According to the company, Global Food Safety Initiative (GSFI) programs have certified 72% of its company-owned businesses. Additionally, GFSI partners audit 75% of co-­manufactured sites while 49% of its ingredient supplier facilities received the certification, according to the report. “The certification of General Mills facilities is an additional assurance that our existing, robust food safety systems continue to evolve and improve,” the company noted.

Mr. Thorson added that such certification is another critical measure of validating — that word is so precious to someone like him in food safety — what General Mills has strived for and attained over decades. That’s not always an easy task, especially from a global perspective. “We’ve been known for world-class food safety for years, but we need to prove it from a sanitation standpoint,” he noted.

In some cases, controls are more advanced in some countries than others. Brazil, for instance, only recently added regulations concerning allergens that have long been in place in the US, Europe and other regions. General Mills’ Sanitation Center for Excellence has been actively involved in implementing best practices in Brazil and elsewhere around the globe. Again, that’s not always an easy task in so many countries with such a vast wealth of cultures. “My biggest challenge globally is communication, so I’m trying to educate our Brazilian team on sanitation, and I found a company that does simultaneous, real-time translation in subtitles [to expedite the process],” Mr. Thorson noted.

“We’re helping Brazil along with eliminating allergens in their journey and understanding of food safety risks,” he added. Of course, creating a universal standard around food safety is an issue with many global food companies, as well as a concern among their customers and every consumer. “Every multinational [company] has this challenge on how we’re going to better communicate,” Mr. Thorson noted.

Fortunately, communication is Mr. Thorson’s forte, and he stressed it’s the heart and soul of spreading the news about improving food safety across the entire industry. As he likes to say, “Food safety has no borders.”

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