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    Risk Assessment and Management, Part 2: Map the Process

    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.

    Julia:
    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!

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