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  • Archive for November 2009

    Risk Assessment and Management, Part 2: Map the Process

    Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

    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 discuss risk assessment and risk management, and how they fit into building a food safety culture in your business.

    Bob, in our previous post you talked about why having a company- and operation-specific risk assessment is an important part of a food safety program. So just how exactly do companies get started with their risk assessment?

    Bob Whitaker:
    Julia, a key step for any risk assessment and management program is to map out your production process. Draw out each step in your operation from when you select the ground to grow on if you are a grower, or how you might receive products at a facility, or how to handle products if you are a processor. Then you simply evaluate where there might be potential food safety problems using that production map.

    Risk assessment is one of the factors that make food safety personal. Every company has a different risk profile, because every company does things their own way — different growers, varieties, water sources, harvest practices, cooling equipment, or process lines. All these different factors result in different risk profile – and the programs to manage those risks have to be built to manage those unique risks. I get frustrated when somebody tells me they have a food safety program, and then they show me a dusty five-year-old food safety manual given to them by a third party vendor or customer. If you have that kind of program, you don’t have a comprehensive food safety program.

    So then if you have a good risk assessment, you can then use the variety of tools available to build management practices and verification methods. If you understand your production flow, then you can figure out where you need to have management practices in place to mitigate risks. Once you have a complete understanding and description of what you do in the production of your products, then you can take the second step and determine where in that process biological, chemical or physical contamination might occur.

    And by the way, you have to own this process. Companies must take responsibility for performing their own risk assessments and implementing risk management programs. You know your business best. To be sure, you can and sometimes should use outside experts to help guide you, but you need to take responsibility for the plan.

    And knowing what’s at stake for a company if it has a food safety problem, if it was my company I would sure want to be driving the risk assessment and management process. I’ve heard enough attorneys talk about how many different ways they can sue food manufacturers who haven’t properly safeguarded their products. Thank you, Bob.

    When Bob and I come back next time we’re going to talk about the different types of risk you might have to consider as you go through your own risk assessment and risk management process. So thank you for listening, and please join us again for next time!

    Risk Assessment and Risk Management, Part 1: Introduction

    Tuesday, November 10th, 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 is with me today and we are going to discuss risk assessment and risk management, and how they fit into building a food safety culture in your business.

    Before we get started, I want to let our listeners know about a new feature on Ask Dr. Bob. You can now sign up on the blog’s front page to receive all future posts by email. So if you give us your email, we’ll keep it safe, and send you a note every time there’s a new post.

    OK. Bob, you’ve been discussing in several forums the need for a new thought process to help protect individual businesses from the threat of a devastating food safety incident. How does risk assessment fit into a food safety program?

    Bob Whitaker:
    Well, Julia, whether we realize it or not, we’re all familiar with the concepts of risk assessment and risk management, because each one of us manages risks in the conduct of our everyday lives. For example, when we cross the street into traffic, we face risks. But we manage these risks by checking for traffic, watching where we step, and looking ahead to see what’s on the other side of the street. Mostly, we do this without thinking, but sometimes we do it in a more formal sense. For instance, we accept there are risks with driving a car and we often lay out a plan to manage those risks, like taking driving lessons, or purchasing a safer type of car, etc.

    In the produce business, we also are very familiar with risk assessment and risk management. Growers pick and choose what crops to plant and when, based on their risk assessment of the market, likely weather, and their own expertise. Shippers invest and market products based on their assessment of the market for those products, and their potential return to the ranch or farm. At each step in the supply chain, we identify and manage risks every day.

    Since we’re already risk managers, we’re well positioned to use the most powerful tool we have in our toolbox to build our food safety programs. But too often in our industry, we skip the risk assessment. We might do so because we think we have a food safety plan but in actuality we’re following somebody’s audit process. The problem is, that “one size fits all” approach doesn’t consider how you run and manage your specific operation. If you leave the risk assessment and management to someone else, you are not using the most important tool you have to effectively manage the safety of your particular products. Your food safety plan is only going to be effective if you own it, if it is specific to your business, and if your employees understand it in that context.

    So in order to properly manage the particular food safety risks that each company faces, each company has to do its own risk assessment and then put in place its own risk management process – they can’t just complete somebody else’s audit and assume they’ve covered all the risks their particular operation may face. Is that right?

    Dr. Bob:
    That’s right. And next time we get together, I’ll talk about how to get the risk assessment process started – it isn’t as scary as it may seem.


    Thank you, Bob. We’ll look forward to hearing the details on this subject in future posts, so that we can all do a better protect our industry and our consumers!

    Thanks very much, and please join us again next time!