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    Risk Assessment and Risk Management, Part 1: Introduction

    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.

    Julia:
    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.

    Julia:

    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!

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