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Case study: How General Mills promotes food safety

General Mills is an American multinational manufacturer and marketer of branded consumer foods, producing and marketing more than 100 consumer brands in over 100 countries on six continents. Safety is a priority for General Mills, and central to its culture. Leading with safety – both in the workplace and the food it makes – is one of the key operating principles that guides General Mills’ work.

This case study is based on the 2019 Global Responsibility Report by General Mills published on the Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Disclosure Database that can be found at this link. Through all case studies we aim to demonstrate what CSR/ ESG/ sustainability reporting done responsibly means. Essentially, it means: a) identifying a company’s most important impacts on the environment, economy and society, and b) measuring, managing and changing.

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In fiscal 2018, General Mills invested US$14.4 million into food safety  Tweet This!, equal to 7.6 percent of its total essential capital investment for the year, and is keen to share best practices and emerging areas of concern as well as collaborate with industry peers and regulators to help raise food safety standards industrywide. In order to promote food safety General Mills took action to:
  • implement food safety systems
  • provide food safety training
  • apply a Food Safety and Regulatory Policy
  • conduct product recalls when appropriate
  • audit and train suppliers

What are the material issues the company has identified?

In its 2019 Global Responsibility Report General Mills identified a range of material issues, such as climate change, human rights, responsible sourcing, employee health, safety and well-being, responsible marketing. Among these, promoting food safety stands out as a key material issue for General Mills.

Stakeholder engagement in accordance with the GRI Standards              

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) defines the Principle of Stakeholder Inclusiveness when identifying material issues (or a company’s most important impacts) as follows:

“The reporting organization shall identify its stakeholders, and explain how it has responded to their reasonable expectations and interests.”

Stakeholders must be consulted in the process of identifying a company’s most important impacts and their reasonable expectations and interests must be taken into account. This is an important cornerstone for CSR / sustainability reporting done responsibly.

Key stakeholder groups General Mills engages with:

Stakeholder Group
Regulators and public policymakers
Industry associations

How stakeholder engagement was made to identify material issues

To identify and prioritise material topics General Mills created and distributed a materiality assessment survey to both internal and external stakeholders, including academics, consultants, customers, investors, nongovernmental organisations and suppliers.

What actions were taken by General Mills to promote food safety?

In its 2019 Global Responsibility Report General Mills reports that it took the following actions for promoting food safety:

  • Implementing food safety systems
  • General Mills’ global food safety systems focus on prevention, intervention and response, and include:
    • Processes: Food safety is integrated into all General Mills’ processes, beginning with R&D (research and development) and extending across its supply chain.
    • Risk mitigation: General Mills conducts internal risk-based surveillance and food safety testing at all its facilities to identify and prioritise specific areas of risk.
    • Audits: General Mills’ Global Internal Audit team periodically audits the effectiveness and efficiency of food safety controls and operating procedures. Results are reported to the company’s Global Governance Council and Board of Directors.
    • Traceability: General Mills’ inventory control and supplier management systems include the ability to trace the sources of ingredients, which is key to isolating risks in the event of food safety concerns. General Mills evaluates suppliers’ systems, to make sure they meet its traceability requirements.
  • Providing food safety training
  • General Mills provides food safety training through its global centres of excellence and online training academy. In fiscal 2018:
    • The General Mills food safety team included more than 400 trained quality professionals.
    • General Mills conducted Auditor Academy training sessions attended by 25 participants from two countries. These sessions help improve General Mills’ ability to identify and fix issues, as well as prevent food safety problems from occurring.
    • General Mills provided food safety training to more than 3,500 professionals across its supply chain.
  • Applying a Food Safety and Regulatory Policy
  • Governance of General Mills’ food safety and regulatory matters begins with a corporate Food Safety and Regulatory Policy signed by its Chief Executive Officer. This corporate policy is supported by 18 detailed policies with accompanying standards and guidance documents. These global policies cover a broad range of food safety areas, including regulatory compliance, trace and recall, labelling, claims, physical, chemical and biological hazards, transportation, and good manufacturing practices and sanitation.
  • Conducting product recalls when appropriate
  • When General Mills learns about illnesses that may be linked to its products, it takes quick action. General Mills collaborates with health officials to investigate the situation, communicate with consumers and issue voluntary product recalls to remove affected products from store shelves, when appropriate. General Mills conducted five voluntary product recalls globally in fiscal 2018 (compared to nine in fiscal 2017), including recalls of snack bars, cereal, yogurt, and fat and tallow products.
  • Auditing and training suppliers
  • To help ensure the safety of the raw materials (ingredients and packaging) it uses in its products, General Mills continues to expand the number of supplier and co-producer audits it conducts globally. General Mills performs direct audits and also encourages third-party audits and/or certification, such as through GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative), as an additional preventive control measure. In 2018, 836 supplier and 98 co-producer audits were conducted. Additionally, General Mills carries out supplier training in classroom settings tailored to the needs of each market. The seminars address topics such as biological and physical hazard controls, allergen management and production facility sanitisation. In 2018, over 300 suppliers were trained through supplier schools and webinars.

Which GRI Standards and corresponding Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been addressed?

The GRI Standards addressed in this case are:

1) Disclosure 416-1 Assessment of the health and safety impacts of product and service categories

2) Disclosure 416-2 Incidents of non-compliance concerning the health and safety impacts of products and services


Disclosure 416-1 Assessment of the health and safety impacts of product and service categories does not correspond to any SDG.

Disclosure 416-2 Incidents of non-compliance concerning the health and safety impacts of products and services corresponds to:

  • Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Business theme: Compliance with laws and regulations


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SustainCase was primarily created to demonstrate, through case studies, the importance of dealing with a company’s most important impacts in a structured way, with use of the GRI Standards. To show how today’s best-run companies are achieving economic, social and environmental success – and how you can too.

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1) This case study is based on published information by General Mills, located at the link below. For the sake of readability, we did not use brackets or ellipses. However, we made sure that the extra or missing words did not change the report’s meaning. If you would like to quote these written sources from the original, please revert to the original on the Global Reporting Initiative’s Sustainability Disclosure Database at the link:


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