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    Risk Assessment and Management, Part 7: Continuous Improvement

    Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

    Julia Stewart:
    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart, and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob.” PMA’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker is with me today to continue discussing risk assessment and risk management.

    Bob, in several of your posts on food safety you have talked about the need for continuous improvement. What exactly does that mean and how can companies incorporate it into their risk assessment and management process?

    Bob Whitaker:
    Julia, Risk assessment and management is never really finished. If you add a new ranch, change harvesters, re-organize your cooler, add a new process line, contract a new transportation company, change the traffic flow in the distribution center, or change display cases in your store, then you need to re-examine your risk management program — to take a fresh look and be sure it is still accurate. Continuous improvement should be a key attribute of that process, and of any good food safety program.

    Absent true kill steps, food safety will always be a process of risk assessment and management – so food safety managers are challenged then to be innovative thinkers and search out new ideas and technologies to help manage those risks. There are exciting new technologies out there poised to have an impact on food safety performance. But first we have to test these new technologies, verify they work, and understand how they can impact food safety. We also have to look internally, to strategize, plan, train and implement, then do it again. These are concepts you use every day in your sales groups and production teams, why not food safety?

    Continuous improvement means never being satisfied. If you stand still on food safety, you’ll most assuredly get run over. This is not a static issue. I always think of it as a “ripple effect”. A little drop of information obtained at a conference, off the internet, or at an agricultural extension service can be shaped, molded and implemented in your business, and have a tidal wave impact on the food safety performance of your company.

    The information is not simply going to find you, you need to search it out. You can do that by getting involved with your trade associations, by visiting Web sites like PMA.com to get food safety updates, by obtaining links to other useful sites, and by supporting the research efforts of the Center for Produce Safety or a local university actively engaged in food safety research.

    Always remember, as your business changes, so does your food safety risk profile; you are constantly in the mode of updating and re-evaluating. A continual process of risk assessment and risk management is a chance for your employees to learn, and a chance for your company to improve your food safety performance. This mind set of continuous improvement can and will also transfer to other aspects of your business activities, and have a positive impact on your business culture.

    Julia:
    Thank you, Bob. PMA is committed to continuously improving the food safety culture of our industry, and our members can take advantage of the wealth of information we have available on food safety.
    Thanks very much to our listeners, please join us again next time!

    Risk Assessment and Management, Part 6: Recordkeeping and Training

    Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

    Julia Stewart:
    Hello, this is Julia Stewart, PMA PR Director, here with PMA Chief Science Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker. Welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob.” Today we’re continuing our series on risk assessment and risk management.

    Bob, in several previous posts you have alluded to the value of recordkeeping, as well as training. What exactly do our listeners need to know about both these areas as they relate to risk assessment and risk management plans?

    Bob Whitaker:
    Well Julia, companies need to have a plan to store and catalog their food safety data, because this data can be vital to the success or failure of the company’s food safety program. Remember, in the event of a food safety incident involving your products, your food safety data will be your best means of demonstrating to regulators your adherence to your written food safety program, and it should be accessible and clear. Should the food safety event move to a legal setting, your data can be subpoenaed so you want it to be complete, accurate, and evaluated properly.

    So what are some of the things to keep in mind as you consider data storage? First, make sure your data is collected and stored properly and securely. Put checks and balances in place to be sure the integrity of the data is maintained. Only your food safety professionals should be authorized to collect, verify and store food safety data. It’s wise to have written policies in place describing how to handle the data, who should read and verify if the data are complete and properly reviewed, and where the data are to be stored.

    It is worth considering both short-term and long-term storage options for food safety data. Most food safety standards call for keeping data at least 2-3 years. You may also want to consider storing data in multiple locations to avoid losing data should a disaster compromise your facility.

    Another of the key tools you have in implementing your risk-based food safety program is training. Training is an important aspect of any food safety program and an activity that will permeate any company that is truly integrating food safety into its culture. I have always found that employees generally want to do the right thing — they just need to be trained properly. Employees learn best when the training is made personal. Don’t just train them to do something, also explain why the task is important and why how it is done is important. If you are training on the importance of hand washing, explain why it is important: Talk about the bacteria that could be on your hands, and how these can make people sick. Talk about how those most likely to get sick, the old and the young, and relate that to the employee’s favorite grandparent or younger sister. It will have more impact and serve as a constant reminder to them.

    Another important piece of training is to then empower employees to do their jobs once they are trained. Setting goals and communicating responsibilities related to food safety – and then following up to ensure the goals and responsibilities are being met – helps with empowerment. Remember, your company is only as food safe as your weakest link. You want that minimum wage employee working on the third shift, when you’re home in bed, to be as well trained as possible.

    Julia:
    Thank you, Bob. Training is such an important part of so many processes. PMA offers great food safety and other training resources and platforms to help our members and you can find more information on these at pma.com.

    To our listeners, thank for joining us! When we come back next time, we’ll have the last post in our series on risk assessment and risk management, on the importance of continuous improvement.

    Until then, goodbye for now.

    Risk Assessment and Management, Part 5B: Verification and Food Safety Audits

    Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

    Julia Stewart:
    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart, and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob.” PMA’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker is with me today to continue discussing the importance of measuring your food safety program. We’ve been talking about verification as part of a series of posts about risk assessment and risk management.

    Bob, in your previous post you discussed some of the tools we can use to verify food safety programs, but are there others?

    Bob Whitaker:
    Yeah, Julia. Another tool we can use to measure adherence to our food safety programs, and assess our risk management strategies, are food safety audits. As I’ve previously discussed, sometimes the food safety discussion in our industry is over-shadowed or somehow equated with discussions on what audits are best and how many we have to do. Remember, audits are only a tool; a snap shot in time.

    Realistically, audits are like taking an exam when you know when the test will be scheduled, have all the questions already in hand, and you know what the answers need to be. But leaving aside the on-going discussions on food safety audits, in the context of verifying our food safety programs, food safety audits are a mechanism to demonstrate to yourself, your senior management, and your customers that you are following your food safety program – and that you can verify it through your audit that day. At their best, food safety audits are excellent training opportunities for employees, a chance to have an independent set of eyes critique your program, and a time when you can step back from all the other responsibilities and critically look at your food safety program and how it is being implemented. So an audit can be an important learning experience.

    Just as we discussed in the last post about needing a plan of action for responding to microbial testing results, it is important to have a plan of action for audits. It is critical that once audits are performed, you assemble your food safety team and work together to develop corrective actions to address deficiencies uncovered during the audit. This is an important step in completing the audit; demonstrating to your team, senior management, customers, and possibly regulators that you have acted responsibly to address any food safety issues that might arise and were detected in your audits.

    Remember an audit is not complete until the corrective actions have been developed and implemented. Preparing corrective actions is also an excellent training opportunity for your team. And be sure to document in writing all your corrective actions.

    Julia:
    Thank you, Bob. With all the talk about audit proliferation and audit fatigue, this helps put the usefulness and role of audits into perspective. Thanks very much to our listeners, please join us again next time!

     
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