The Five-Minute Interview: Celebrating the Mars GFSC’s Five Year Anniversary!

Bob Baker is Corporate Food Safety Science and Capability Director at Mars. Prior to this role, Bob was responsible for the design, construction and leadership of the Mars Global Food Safety Center (GFSC) in Beijing, China. Here, Bob shares insights on the early days of setting up the Mars GFSC, and explains how patience, planning and a top team of talented Associates have been key to its success.
What is your greatest scientific achievement at Mars?

Bringing to life the Mars GFSC is without doubt the moment I’m most proud of. There are only a few times in life, if any, that you get an opportunity to be involved in something of this magnitude and this was certainly one of them!

My manager coined the phrase ‘precompetitive food-safety’ at Mars. I’m excited to see this expression now entering common parlance in the food industry. I’m encouraged to see a spirit of collaboration emerging among industry, academia, regulators and others to share insights, new approaches and best practice.  I’m proud of our achievements. Collaboration is critical for ensuring safe food. The food industry is only as strong as its weakest link. 

What lessons have you learned during your time working in food safety at Mars? ​

Setting up the Mars GFCS has taught me that preparation, planning and patience are the key to success. Food safety challenges are constantly emerging, and Mars realized over time that much-needed technological breakthroughs in food safety were not materializing fast enough in general. At the same time, there was a significant need to bridge the gap between food safety science and its application within the food industry.

It would have been easy to rush into building a standalone center, but we decided to take a step back and do our homework. Guided by the Mars Five Principles and our commitment to creating a better world tomorrow, we wanted to create a global hub that would have a positive and lasting impact on food safety and help realize our aim to ensure safe food for all.

Working with global experts in food safety we devised a clear strategy focused on science and collaboration. We set our compass ‘due north’ so we knew exactly which direction we were heading. 

The strategy we worked hard to establish in those early days, underpins our strong foundations today. They have created a special synergy that helps us to make a difference through robust research, training and collaboration together with key partners from around the world.

GFSC Group Ground Opening
What advice would you offer to those interested in a career in food safety science at Mars? ​ 

In my view, anyone interested in working at the cutting edge of science should consider a career in food safety. We are now entering an exciting new world of ‘omics’, genomics, gene sequencing, informatics, even the application of artificial intelligence.

Working in food safety science contributes to making the world a better place. Whether it’s protecting the planet through sustainability and environment or seeking ways to feed a growing population and helping some of the millions of people in the world who do not yet have access to enough food to lead a healthy, active life – food safety science is one of the most truly rewarding careers. 

Why is it critical that we take steps to ensure food safety today for a better world tomorrow? 

Global food safety challenges are increasing every day as a result of climate change, population growth and changes to agricultural practices and food production. We can’t afford to wait until tomorrow to find solutions to these problems, we need to stay one step ahead today.

We don’t have a crystal ball at the Mars GFSC, but we do have a top team of talented scientists working on methods and solutions to help mitigate some of the food safety risks of tomorrow.

The food safety challenges we face are so significant that no one entity can solve them alone. That’s why the Mars GFSC puts partnerships and collaboration at the heart of everything it does.  Whether it’s developing technology and solutions to tackle microbial risk, eradicating deadly mycotoxins that blight a third of the world’s crop area, or combatting the rising threat of food fraud, we all have a vested interest in improving the quality of the food we eat and the supply chains that provide it.  There is no food security without food safety.