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    Risk Assessment and Management, Part 4:Key Principles For Success

    Julia Stewart:
    Hello, this is Julia Stewart, PMA PR Director, here with PMA Chief Science Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker. Welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob”.

    Bob, we’ve been talking about the importance of risk assessment to food safety, and how to get started. What are some of the most important steps we should be considering as we go through this process?

    Bob Whitaker:
    Julia, as we have already discussed, we’re already risk assessors and managers, so we’re well positioned to use the most powerful tool we have in our toolbox to build food safety programs.  I want to briefly outline some key general principles you need to bear in mind as you put that tool to work.

    We previously discussed the importance of mapping the process for your operation. This is a key step in any risk assessment. A company must draw out each step in the operation and then evaluate where you might have a food safety risk.  

    While each operation must assign a person responsible for leading that mapping and risk assessment process, it is important to note that this must be a participatory process. Everyone must participate in the process, so that they can ultimately take responsibility for the company’s food safety performance.   The best way to achieve this is by designating a food safety team, spanning from field-level employees to senior managers. That way, you can ensure meaningful input in the planning process, and get corporate-wide buy-in or ownership when the plan is complete.  Your food safety plan is only going to be effective if each employee owns it, if it is specific to your business, and your employees understand it in that context.

    Next, use your internal experts. The president of the company or his or her designated food safety professional can’t sit at a desk and create a complete risk assessment and management program alone.  Involve your company “experts”. Every operation has people who are experts in their area, from growing to harvesting and cooling, to processing. They live in these operations daily and can help define the mapping process more accurately.  More importantly, they can help you develop the risk management practices that you will need. 

    If your risk assessment and management planning process is iterative, as it should be to ensure your plan stays current and effective, you will generally find that your group of experts can be your most valuable resource in suggesting and implementing new management practices to mitigate the risks you identify.  Even better, because they had a role in developing those practices, your experts will turn into your most vehement enforcers of your management practices every day.

    You also must be sure that you make your risk management program measurable to the extent possible.  Simply put, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.  You must build measurable activities into your plan. We will talk about this in more detail in a future post.

    Lastly, risk assessment and management is never really done. You must re-assess and update your plans regularly, striving for continuous improvement. We’ll talk about this principle in another post.

    Julia:
    Thank you, Bob. These core principles make basic sense, I look forward to talking with you more about some of them in future posts. In the meantime, to our listeners, thanks for joining us. Please visit the Ask Dr. Bob audio blog again soon, and remember you can also sign up on the blog’s front page to receive future posts by email. If you are finding this valuable, please share it with your colleagues.

    See you next time!

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