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    Building a Food Safety Culture, Limits of Product Testing

    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 has been discussing in recent posts the various aspects of building a food safety culture, and challenging the industry to look at food safety from a different perspective.

    Bob, I know you get asked frequently about the ins and outs of product testing. How does product testing fit into the food safety culture you’ve been describing? What are the pros and cons?

    Bob Whitaker:
    Julia, we could have a whole host of posts on the positives and negatives, and the do’s and don’ts, of product testing and what it all means. But the top line is that you need to look at the uses for testing in your operations and consider how testing helps you manage risks.  Understand that testing is only a tool; you cannot test your way to food safety.  Unless you have the proper risk assessment and risk management practices in place and working properly, testing is meaningless.

    These days, we are confronted with the need to test water, soil amendments, process environments, equipment surfaces and even seeds.  You need to look at how these efforts relate to your risk assessment and risk management goals, and then determine whether testing these factors will help you manage the risk better or if the tests will help verify the effectiveness of a process.  Similarly, in the last few years pressure to test raw and finished products has increased.  Again, you must understand what these tests can and cannot tell you, and work with your customers to develop the smartest testing program; one that helps you manage potential risks, and one that gives them greater confidence in that risk management program.

    Know also that testing can get expensive. I have seen instances where meeting certain testing requirements can add as much as a dollar in costs to a box. Buyers and sellers have to ask themselves if that is the best use of their money to improve food safety. Regardless of where you stand on testing today, one thing is certain: testing methodologies have improved dramatically over the last few years, and research is being conducted now that should help us develop more statistically significant sampling programs. Eventually, costs will equilibrate and accuracy and significance will improve, and that can only help our industry in the future.

    We also talked about testing in a post we made last year, on June 10, 2008 – I invite our listeners to check it out for more discussion on the limitations of product testing.

    Thank you, Bob. I think there’s definitely a perception out there that testing ensures safe product, when we know that trying to find some of these pathogens is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. This is an important topic our members should consider as they work to continuously improve their food safety programs.

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

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