• About Dr. Bob Whitaker
  • About this blog
  • @@post_notification_header

    Building a Food Safety Culture, Audits vs. Risk Assessment

    Julia Stewart:

    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart, and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob.” Chief Science Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker is joining me again to discuss various aspects of building a food safety culture. 


    Bob, you’ve said earlier that some food safety programs just make companies good at being audited – they don’t have true food safety programs that respond to risk and contribute to a food safety competency. How do we alter our discussion to go from audits to risk assessment?


    Bob Whitaker:

    Julia, food safety is about risk assessment and risk management. We are all risk assessors and managers in our daily lives, whether we do so consciously or subconsciously. We routinely evaluate the risks associated with everything we do and then we take precautions to manage those risks.  For example, when we cross the street, we check to be sure no cars are coming; when we drive a car, we be sure it is in good working order, the brakes work, its full of gas and we obey (at least most of the time) traffic rules and regulations to minimize our risk of an accident.  When it comes to produce food safety, it is important to be sure our food safety programs are similarly risk based.  Simply developing a food safety program that supplies the paperwork required by whatever auditor is being employed does not address the food safety needs of your company. 


    Doing a risk assessment does not have to be hard.  Start out by making a simply line drawing.  If you are a grower begin at the point you select the land you intend to grow a crop on through land preparation, planting, growing, harvesting, cooling, right up to the point where you no longer control the fate of the crop.  Processors, transportation companies, distribution centers, and any other handlers can follow the same process picking up where they impact the produce supply chain. It is important for all those who handle our produce to understand the risks associated with their place in the supply chain and adopt risk management strategies to minimize those risks.


    As you perform your risk assessments, reach out to all the experts who are available to you for their expert advice and input on the risks you should be considering, and how to manage them effectively. You already have lots of experts within your own organization. Who knows your operations better than the people who work for you?  You have to step up and take responsibility for preparing your company’s food safety program.  Too often I hear growers and processors say “just tell me what I have to do and that’s what I’ll do for my food safety program”.  How can anyone else possibly know your operations and therefore your risk profile better than you?  In any produce company I have ever been around, there is always at least one guy who knows more about his growers and their practices than anyone else. There are also usually harvest and process guys who have incredible knowledge of what they do and why.


    Use these people, combining them as you need to with those who have the technical knowledge to understand the microbial, chemical or physical risk implications of those practices.  Once these people start talking, I guarantee you that you can build an effective risk management system and practices that mitigate risk…and best of all, your employees will own those practices, because they had a hand in developing them.



    Thank you, Bob. Once again you’ve helped us look at food safety from a different perspective.


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

    Leave a Reply