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    Risk Assessment, Part 3: Determine the Types of Risk

    Julia Stewart:
    Hi, this is Julia Stewart, PMA PR Director and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob.” PMA’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker is with me today to continue discussing risk assessment and risk management.

    Bob, in your last post you outlined the importance of risk assessment and management, and you described how mapping the process sets the base for a food safety program. Can you give us more detail on the different types of risk we might have to plan for?

    Bob Whitaker:
    Julia, as I’ve said before, risk assessment and risk management is our most powerful weapon in our efforts to improve our industry food safety performance. In our last post I talked about how important it is for each operator to thoroughly map and define their production practices, to help identify the different types of risk they face and will need to manage. What do I specifically mean by that? We grow our crops in nature. They can potentially be exposed to a number of biological, chemical or physical contaminants that could cause illness in humans.

    Crops are subject to weather, animals, birds, insects and human intrusion. Our production areas aren’t hermetically sealed buildings. We may farm next to dairy and poultry operations, grazing beef cattle, industrial manufacturing, and more recently populated neighborhoods. Fruits and vegetables grow in soils that can harbor vibrant microbial populations. We irrigate our crops with water sourced from wells and reservoirs that are fairly protected, but also canals and rivers where the water often travels hundreds of miles and can be subject to a wide variety of contaminating factors along the route.

    Many commodities are handled numerous times by humans during harvest, sorting, and packing. We cool and sometimes process products, and these operations further subject the products to contamination risks. We ship products across the country, hold them at distribution centers and then move them to consumers through restaurant kitchens or retail shelves. Each stop along the way presents risks for contamination that must be managed to achieve our supply chain’s common goal of public safety.

    When we look at the complex supply chain that is employed in produce and the potential for contamination events, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. However, these potential risk events are really opportunities for operators to use their best practices to manage these risks. An effective risk mapping and assessment process helps identify the points of potential risk, but it doesn’t stop there. That process will also help each company determine how likely a contamination event is to occur, so that the company can then assign a priority to addressing that risk, and determining what tool or management process might be employed to do so.

    Julia:
    Thank you, Bob. Once again you’ve outlined some interesting information and challenged us to really analyze this entire process and all the types of risk that we might face. We look forward to hearing more from you on this whole issue of risk assessment and management.

    Until next time, to our listeners, thanks for joining us!

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