The 2023 edition of the long-running and successful North American Food Safety & Quality series ran September 25th through the 29th at the Westin Chicago Northshore in Wheeling, Illinois, just north of Chicago. It was attended by 405 delegates, speakers, sponsor representatives, and guests from more than 200 different companies and organizations. The agenda included more than 50 keynotes, case studies, workshops, roundtable discussions, focus groups, interactive think tanks, and more. Early feedback has been universally positive, and work is already underway to build upon this success and make next year’s summit event bigger and better.
That is the shortest overview we can offer of the event. Here is the longer version, which we will try to make both concise and at times entertaining.

About the Series…

NAFS is the third-longest running series of events Executive Platforms has organized in our current form, and it was built upon the experience of many of our most senior staff who worked on other FSQ, Food Manufacturing, and Food Technology events before joining the EP team. NAFS has always run in Chicago, with the exception of one virtual year during the worst of the COVID-19 lockdowns, and the series came to the Westin Chicago Northshore in 2019 after outgrowing earlier venues. The event has always had a focus on Food Safety, Food Quality, and Regulatory Compliance, and has seen steady growth in attendance and support from year to year. Skipping ahead in our story slightly, Executive Platforms is excited to announce that after many great years at the Westin Chicago Northshore, 2024 will see the series moving to a new and larger venue to helping Executive Platforms shape the next chapter of the NAFS series at the Hilton Austin Hotel in the heart of Texas’s capital!
The following account, then, documents perhaps the last time we will ever run an FSQ event in Chicago, although stay tuned for more information about our new Food Manufacturing Series that will be launching next October at the Westin Chicago Northshore!

The NAFS23 Welcome Day

Monday, September 25th, was a warm and sunny day in Illinois. Attendees of NAFS23 began arriving in mid-afternoon from across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Sponsors and corporate partners were admitted to the Exhibition Hall to begin setting up their booths at 2 pm. By 4:30 pm, delegates and speakers began lining up at Executive Platforms’ Registration Desk to be admitted to the afternoon’s special Welcome Day Panel, which began at 5 pm.
The panel, “Safeguarding Tomorrow’s Food – Charting the Course for the Future of Food Safety & Quality,” was moderated by the event’s chair, Catherine Davidson, the VP, Food Safety, Quality, and HSE of Sabra Dipping Company, and the panelists included Takashi Nakamura, the VP, Corporate R&D and Food Safety of Fresh Del Monte, Spir Marinakis, the VP of Food Safety, Quality Assurance, Technical Services & Sanitation of Maple Leaf Foods (and a past chair of the NAFS series herself), and Andy Corlett, the VP, Supply Quality & Product Safety of Starbucks.
The hour-long discussion was very well-received by an attentive audience, and was followed immediately by a Welcome Drinks Reception in the Foyer outside the Exhibition Hall with a live electric violinist doing pop covers.
It was a fantastic start to a fantastic event.

Day One

The first full day of the event was cooler than the Welcome Day, and the morning included rain, further dropping the temperature back down to late-September norms.
The Registration Desk opened at 7 am and delegates, speakers, and sponsor representatives arrived to enjoy breakfast together in our Exhibition Hall. Opening remarks and important announcements started at 7:45 am, and then Catherine Davidson of Sabra Dipping Company began her welcome address a little before 8 am to a full and attentive room of senior FSQ professionals.
The opening fireside keynote to start NAFS23 on the right note was, “Leveraging Technology: Implementing a Digital Transformation to Simplify Compliance Processes and Improve Quality” presented by Valérie Sieurin, the Chief Quality Officer of Unilever. She was followed by another keynote, “Leveraging Digital Solutions to Enhance Food Safety at PepsiCo, Globally” by Mahir Bhagia, PepsiCo’s Chief Food Safety and Quality Assurance (FSQA) Officer.
After that presentation the agenda split into three streams of concurrent content. Room 1 continued to be chaired by Catherine Davidson, with Room 2 being chaired by Kimberly Coffin, LRQA’s Global Technical Director – Supply Chain, Customized Assurance, and Room 3 being chaired by Kim Daniels, RQA’s Director, Crisis & Risk Management: Food and Beverage Products – US Based. Broadly speaking, the content of Room 1 during breakout sessions was geared towards Food Safety, while Room 2 was about Food Quality, and Room 3 was about Compliance topics. Delegates were encouraged to check the agenda on the event app and choose the sessions that interested them the most.
The first round of case studies in breakout rooms included, “Creating a Sustainable FSQ Culture of Connectivity, Clarity, and Consistency,” by Maria Wedel, Cargill’s VP, Food Safety, Quality & Regulatory Affairs, “Securing Future Sanitation Talent within the Food Industry,” presented by Devon Griggs, Conagra Brands’s Sr. Director of Food Safety, and “How Smart Packaging Can Help Modernize Recall Notifications,” by Rishi Banerjee, Consumer Brands Association’s Sr. Director & SmartLabel Lead. Following these sessions, summit attendees enjoyed a networking break that included pre-scheduled one-to-one meetings with other speakers, delegates, and sponsors.
After the break, delegates had their choice of workshops: In Room 1, “How to Use AI and Intelligent Automation to Drive Supplier and Product Compliance” was presented by Sara Jane Bellocchi, a Networked Ingredients Functional Consultant with TraceGains; in Room 2, “How to Achieve Always-on, Digital Management of Quality, Safety, Risk, and Compliance Across the Entire Supply Chain” was presented by Art Nisperos, Jr., CMX1’s VP, Customer Experience, and in Room 3, “Item-Level Traceability and Visibility in Food Safety – The New Normal” was a joint presentation by Bart de Muynck and Chris Cassidy of Mojix Inc. and John Crabill and Joni Bradenburg of Chipotle.
This was then followed by a keynote presentation, “Harnessing Big Data for Enhanced Food Safety and Quality in the Digital Age” by Howard Popoola, Kroger’s VP – Corporate Food Technology and Regulatory Compliance. The lunch break that followed included options to participate in one of eleven themed lunch-and-learn discussions hosted by executives who chose a topic that delegates could sign up for ahead of time through the event app. These lunches are often among the most popular features of Executive Platforms events because of their intimate and unstructured but focused networking and group discussion on a topic of common interest.
Returning from lunch, attendees enjoyed another block of three presentations: Spir Marinakis of Maple Leaf Foods’ “Reshaping the Process: How to Enhance Food Safety & Quality through Performance Metrics and Digital Transformations” was in Room 1; Karleigh Bacon of McDonald’s Corporation’s “Data-Driven Food Safety Risk Management” was in Room 2, and Paul Kiecker, the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA-FSIS, spoke about, “FSIS Regulatory Update: Optimizing Inspection and Food Safety Practices through Innovation in Science and Technology” in Room 3.
This was followed by another block of three workshops. In Room 1 Geert Van Kempen, Veeva Systems’s Head of Food & Beverage Strategy, shared, “Digital Transformation of HACCP: Same Principles, Better Outcomes.” In Room 2, RizePoint organized a group discussion where President & CEO Carla Hechler and Chief Revenue Officer Paul J. Damaren were joined by Dr. Stan Osuagwu, the VP, Food Safety & Quality Assurance of HomeChef/Kroger, and Jorge Hernandez, the VP of Quality Assurance for The Wendy’s Company, to talk about, “Top 5 Tech Trends in 2023 and Beyond and Their Impact on the Food Industry.” In Room 3, Angela Nardone, the COO of Share-ify, and Susan Akin, the Director Quality Assurance – Fresh for UNFI, spoke about, “Advanced Strategies to Maximize Data-Driven Supplier Management.”
The afternoon’s networking break was shorter than the morning’s, but no less productive and enjoyable. Afterwards, the delegates all moved to Room 1 to enjoy two back-to-back keynotes: “Risk Management and Governance Approaches in a Rapidly Changing World” by Alan Littlechild, the Global VP Quality & Food Safety of Mars, and “An Alternate View of the Importance of ‘AI’” by Dan Fone, Walmart’s Sr. Director II – US Food Safety SME.
Day One wrapped up with a networking drinks reception in the Exhibition Hall that included more live music and an ice luge station dispensing drinks. Many delegates were also invited to executive dinners sponsored by GE Digital and FoodChainID.

Day Two

Wednesday, September 27th was a mix of sun and clouds, pleasantly warm without being hot. In addition to a good meal in our Exhibition Hall, there was also a breakfast workshop running in Room 2, “ Total Visibility in Real-Time: FSQ Science Fiction is Becoming a Reality” where Julie McGill, Trustwell’s VP Supply Chain Strategy & Insights, moderated a conversation with Sarah Blackmon, the Sr. Director, Supplier Quality and Safety of Chick-fil-A, and Brando Tijerina, the Sr. Manager of Quality Assurance, Commercialization and Food Safety of Taco John’s.
After this, delegates moved to Room One to enjoy Day Two’s opening keynote, “Global Food Safety Leadership: Being Right is Not Enough” by Mary Weaver Gertz, the Chief Food Safety & Quality Assurance Officer of Yum! Brands, which was immediately followed by, “Pre-Harvest Testing and Requirements for Produce Growers” by Takashi Nakamura of Fresh Del Monte. Two incredible back-to-back sessions to start Day Two off with a bang!
At this point Day Two’s agenda broke into two concurrent streams of content again: Sonny Brar, Fiera Foods’ Global VP, Food Safety, Occupational Health & Safety, Quality Assurance and Regulatory Affairs, spoke about, “Advancements in Contamination Detection: Safeguarding Our Food Supply” in Room 1, and Amit Jagirdar, Bunge’s Director of Quality and Food Safety, shared his thoughts on, “Building & Maintaining a Culture of Food Safety: Doing the Right Thing When No One is Looking.” After that session, Amit would sit down and record a podcast interview about Food Safety Culture. Here’s that interview!
The Day Two morning networking break gave everyone a chance to both digest the content they had enjoyed so far, and also connect on any prescheduled one-on-one meetings they may have missed the day before. Delegates could also enjoy one of three interactive think tanks exploring challenges and opportunities regarding technology, workforce, and compliance issues facing the Future of Food.
The break was followed by another keynote, “Nourishing the Future: Exploring the Symbiosis of Food Quality and Sustainability Development,” by Ray Kosmicki, the VP, Food Safety, Quality and Regulatory Affairs of Prinova USA. After this, delegates broke up into three streams of content again to enjoy workshops on “Digital Transformation With Cloud-Based Software Solutions Ensures FSMA Compliance – It All Starts With Data” by Vikram Mankar of GE Digital in Room 1, “Unveiling the Power of Upstream Traceability: Enhancing Food Safety from Source to Shelf” by Tomas Langlais-Roy of OPTEL Group in Room 2, and “Leveraging the Power of AI to Strengthen the Risk Preventive Measures in the Food and Feed Supply Chain” by Dr. Giannis Stoitsis of Agroknow in Room 3.
Lunch on Day Two included both the general networking lunch option, as well as six more themed lunch-and-learn discussions. After lunch, delegates enjoyed another keynote, “From Seed to Sip: Achieving Consistent and Sustainable Quality in World-Class Brewing” by Kristopher Scholl, the Global VP Brewing, Quality, & Raw Material Operations for Anheuser-Busch InBev.
The final session of NAFS23 was a panel discussion, “Understanding the Interconnected Ecosystem of Food Quality, Regulatory, and Safety” with Catherine Davidson and Ray Kosmicki joined by
Julie Ramsey, the Director, FSQA of Impossible Foods, and Natasha Bangel-Askren, the Sr. Manager, National FSQA of Taylor Farms, to finish the event on a strong note.
In addition to the sessions mentioned here, Executive Platforms also recorded seven 15- to 30-minute interviews on site for future episodes of its bluEprint Podcast Series, so look forward to the edited versions of those being published soon.
Executive Platforms would like to thank everyone who contributed so much of their time, energy, and expertise to make this event such a success. Stay tuned for news and updates on NAFS24, which will be running September 22nd to the 24th in Austin, Texas!

Geoff Micks
Head of Content & Research
Executive Platforms

Geoff joined the industry events business as a conference producer in 2010 after four years working in print media. He has researched, planned, organized, run, and contributed to more than a hundred events across North America and Europe for senior leaders, with special emphasis on the energy, mining, manufacturing, maintenance, supply chain, human resources, pharmaceutical, food and beverage, finance, and sustainability sectors. As part of his role as Head of Content & Research, Geoff hosts Executive Platforms’ bluEPrint Podcast series as well as a weekly blog focusing on issues relevant to Executive Platforms’ network of business leaders.

Geoff is the author of five works of historical fiction: Inca, Zulu, Beginning, Middle, and End. The New York Times and National Public Radio have interviewed him about his writing, and he wrote and narrated an animated short for Vice Media that appeared on HBO. He has a BA Honours with High Distinction from the University of Toronto specializing in Journalism with a Double Minor in History and Classical Studies, as well as Diploma in Journalism from Centennial College.