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  • Archive for July 2009

    Building a Food Safety Culture, Part 1

    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.”
    It’s springtime, the time of year when produce food safety unfortunately ends up being bad news somewhere, sometime. It was this time last year that the Salmonella saintpaul outbreak was making headlines, sickening thousands and shutting down the tomato market. That begs the question, so what do we need to do differently?

    PMA’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker is with me today to talk about building a food safety culture. As part of our commitment to providing consumers at supermarkets and restaurants with safe, nutritious products, the fresh fruit and vegetable industry has already devoted considerable attention to food safety.  Now, our Dr. Bob is challenging the industry to look at food safety from a different perspective…

    Bob, why should we have food safety programs? Why do we need to have a different type of food safety discussion now?

    Bob Whitaker:

    Julia, when we talk about food safety in this industry, we have a tendency to focus our discussions on tactical areas like food safety auditing, product testing, sanitizers, “kill” steps, regulatory issues and legislative developments.  These topics are important to be sure, but these tools by themselves cannot make our products safer.  Today, I’d like to talk about a different mindset, a change in thinking that can advance the cause of food safety in our industry. 

    Let’s start by looking at why we really need to have food safety programs. The first reason is that consumers expect our products to be safe – rightfully so, and we have a fundamental obligation to try to meet that expectation.  We know we grow our products out in open fields subject to a number of potential risk factors and that our products are distributed via multiple and complex channels with numerous “touch” points.  Guarantees of safety are not possible.  Though we understand this and groups like the Food and Drug Administration know this, it is a tough message to convey to consumers. So, we have to manage these potential risks to minimize the chances for contamination that can make consumers sick.

    The second reason to have a food safety program is to protect your own business — to protect your brand, to gain your customers’ confidence, to secure your capital investment, to provide a reliable work environment for your employees and to meet your commitments to the rest of the industry to produce the safest products possible.  I can’t think of any situation where the senior management or the president of a company wouldn’t do everything in their power to protect their business, their livelihoods and their reputations. 

    Food safety is not passive, it is not impersonal – it is very active, and very personal.  It needs to be part of our business culture.
    Thank you, Bob. I think our members will agree that a food safety problem is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a company – and that’s after it has devastated consumers first. We all know food safety is important. PMA encourages our members to have thorough food safety programs, and we also support reasonable, science-based food safety solutions and consumer and foodservice worker education on safe food handling. We are partnering diligently with industry and regulatory and legislative organizations for better, stronger food safety programs – that’s a goal that all of us can support.  The issue then becomes how to do it. I look forward to talking with you more about this subject next time.
    Thanks very much to our listeners, please join us again soon!