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  • Archive for July 2009

    Building a Food Safety Culture, Part 3 – Responsibility

    Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

    Julia Stewart:

    Hello, and welcome to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob.” I’m Julia Stewart, PMA’s PR Director. Our Chief Science Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker has previously explained the rationale for engraining a food safety culture into your daily business operations, and now we are outlining the four basic attributes of a food safety culture.    


    Bob, tell us more about the first attribute, Responsibility…


    Bob Whitaker:

    Julia, when it comes to food safety, taking responsibility for it starts at the top.  The president or CEO must make food safety a priority for the company, and then enforce that priority every day using his or her senior managers. When the boss believes in the importance of food safety, the employees soon make it their priority as well.  It is important that senior management doesn’t just assign responsibility for food safety to their quality assurance group, with everyone else in the company remaining blissfully ignorant of food safety practices.  Food safety is every employee’s responsibility, top to bottom. All employees need to be accountable for the roles they play in producing safe food.  To do this, the president or CEO must see to it that each employees’ role in operating the company’s food safety program is effectively communicated.


    Taking responsibility for food safety not only means the CEO makes it a priority and leads the charge, it means making tough decisions. It means not cutting back on food safety even in difficult times like we have today with a downturn in the economy and every business looking to trim costs. It means when you are short on product and have orders to fill, you can’t reach out to an unapproved supplier with an unknown food safety program just to make the order.  Likewise, if one of your fields becomes compromised prior to harvest, no matter how badly you need the product, you can’t use it.  If a coveted customer wants you to shave the price a bit more, it can’t come from the food safety budget. Food safety leadership means sometimes you have to say “no”.  These are tough decisions, especially in the produce industry where margins are already narrow and opportunities often arise when product supply shortages due to weather or other factors can tempt even the most devout advocates for food safety to “cut a corner” to take advantage of a “hot” market.  It is here when leadership counts the most and the tough decision has to be made to take responsibility and protect the safety of your products and those that will purchase and consume it.     


    Some buyers and suppliers recognize the value of developing company-wide food safety programs and have done so, while others have programs that are really just about taking audits and are not always consistent in application. And even after all we’ve been through as an industry over the last few years, there are a small number of operators refusing to change to meet today’s food safety requirements.   


    If you listen to the major companies who have had significant, national food safety crises in the last 20 years and survived them, they all talk about how they have since made food safety an integral part of their everyday business culture. You may remember the Jack in the Box E. coli crisis in 1993 where four people died and several were hospitalized.  After suffering through some dark years, the company emerged in no small part because they embraced food safety, made it part of their business culture and then communicated what they were doing internally to their employees, externally to the suppliers and finally to their customers. 



    Thank you, Bob, for explaining the role and importance of Responsibility in building a company food safety culture.  We look forward to your explanations of the other attributes in future posts.


    Thanks very much to our listeners, please join us again next time!

    Building a Food Safety Culture, Part 2 – 4 Basic Attributes

    Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

    Julia Stewart:

    Hello, and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob.” I’m Julia Stewart. PMA’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker and I have been talking about why and how to integrate a food safety culture into your corporate culture. Today, he is with me to discuss the four basic attributes of a culture of food safety. In his previous posts, Dr. Bob has discussed the importance of integrating food safety into the culture of the business, and looking at the ROI of food safety.


    Bob, now that we understand the importance of why we need to look at food safety from an integrated perspective, just how do we go about creating a food safety culture?


    Bob Whitaker:

    Julia, there are four basic attributes of a food safety culture. First off, you have to take responsibility for the safety of your products and it has to start at the top of the organization chart and run down through the entire system. Second, you have to access the technical knowledge required to build a fully integrated food safety program…and here is a hint, a lot of that knowledge already exists in your company. Third, you have to communicate clearly and often regarding food safety, both internally and externally.  Last, you can never, ever be satisfied – food safety as an area of continuous improvement. 


    As an industry, we need to begin to mature our discussion on food safety, and embrace each and every one of these four attributes. Too often we get bogged down in tactical issues like auditing and testing, when true improvement in food safety competence will only come when food safety becomes integrated into our individual business cultures.  It has to become part of our corporate fabric.  These four key attributes to building a food safety culture: taking responsibility, searching out and incorporating knowledge, communicating internally and externally about food safety, and developing a mindset of continual improvement have to become part of our everyday thought process as we operate our businesses. These are all critical to a truly successful approach to food safety.


    Viewing corporate investment in food safety in the more traditional business approach of return on investment helps provide context to the costs of food safety, and puts perspective on these costs versus others we have historically dealt with in business. When the true ROI is clear, then devoting resources to each of these four areas may be more palatable. In the end, consumers expect our products to be safe – not to mention regulators and legislators.  For the future of our own businesses and the industry as a whole, we have to spare no effort to be sure we are doing all we can to meet that expectation.


    In my upcoming posts, I’ll be discussing each of these attributes in detail, but this gives you the overall idea.



    Thank you, Bob. This really sets the stage for better understanding how to build a food safety culture in our companies and in the industry. We look forward to hearing more about each of these attributes.


    Thanks very much to our listeners, please join us again next time!

    Building a Food Safety Culture, Part 1 ROI

    Monday, July 13th, 2009


    Julia Stewart:
    Hi, 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 and I are continuing our talk about why and how to build a food safety culture. In our last post, Dr. Bob presented the reasons for why we as an industry need to have a different type of food safety discussion and look at the issue differently than we have in the past.

    Bob, in addition to meeting consumer expectations and protecting our business, what else should we be considering with respect to the food safety discussion?
    Bob Whitaker:
    Julia, food safety has to be seen by top management as a mandatory business function – just as important to the operation of the company as sales, production, or human resources.  It should be fully integrated into the fabric of the company and executed daily, even in a tough economy.

    To accomplish that goal, the food safety program needs to be adequately resourced. Suppliers cannot be expected to shoulder food safety costs all on their own, but the cost each company does bear should be viewed in the same context as one would look at capital outlays for equipment – that is, it should be looked at on a return on investment basis.  We have no problem in this industry calculating the return on investment if we need to buy a new packing line or tractor, we simply look at the cost and then determine the opportunity to be gained and the time required to pay off the investment. We should do the same thing for food safety.

    To explain the ROI analogy, let’s say we have a hypothetical company, one that handles 20 million cartons a year and has $150 million in total sales. Without going into all the specifics here, I estimate that a good-quality food safety program for our hypothetical company would cost between $850,000 and $1 million per year.  So what percentage of company expenses is that? If you take the high end of that cost range, $1 million, that is still only 0.6% of that hypothetical company’s total sales.  Compared to raw products, packaging, labor and fuel, it turns out food safety is a minor expense.  $1 million represents a nickel a box over the 20 million cartons our hypothetical company sells per year. To give you some perspective, the box alone, empty and palletized, costs over a dollar. 

    So, assuming we spend our money well and our little company has effectively integrated food safety into its corporate culture; that investment now permits us to effectively manage the potential risks associated with our products. In our analysis of return on investment, we are spending a million dollars to protect the assets of our company. Perhaps another way to look at it is that your million-dollar-a-year investment helps protect your $150 million per year in sales.  If you are unfortunate enough to have a food safety crisis associated with your products, what would happen to your sales?  There is a pretty good chance your sales would take a big hit, and you would have to expend resources to execute a recall, pay legal fees, public relations fees, perhaps fines, write off crop losses and inevitably have increased insurance costs going forward.

    The million dollars may also be viewed as an investment in the future of your business. To be able to confidently communicate your food safety program to a customer and clearly demonstrate your risk assessment and management procedures should help you to secure an existing customer, and to reassure a prospective customer. Lastly, perhaps your million dollar investment lets you sleep better at night, knowing you are doing all you can to ensure your products are as safe as possible.  I’ve talked to a lot of people at companies who have been through food safety issues where people have been injured, and they tell me there is almost no price they wouldn’t pay to reverse those injuries.

    Thank you, Bob. That explanation really helps us see food safety not as an expense line on a budget that needs to be minimized, but rather from an ROI perspective and how it’s the right thing to do not only for our consumers, but also for the health of our company.

    Thanks very much to our listeners, please join us again next time!