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    Risk Assessment and Management, Part 5A: How Do You Verify Your Plans Work?

    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 continue discussing the steps of risk assessment and risk management.

    Bob, in your previous post you mentioned the importance of being able to measure your risk management program. Can you give us some more details about this?

    Bob Whitaker:
    Sure Julia, it is important that you make your risk management program measurable to the extent possible. Simply put, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. For example, if you identify irrigation water sourced from a well on a farm as a risk factor should it become contaminated, then define your risk management practice in measurable terms. That means, for example, that you can have a check list that calls for weekly physical inspection of the well head, and monthly microbial testing for generic E. coli. These are measurable activities, they generate data, and that data can be used to verify you are following your risk assessment and management plan. More importantly, these data may also help you identify improvements you could make in your risk management program to help improve your food safety performance.

    However, remember you cannot test your way to safety. You need to be realistic about the uses and value for testing in your operations and how it helps you manage risks. Understand that testing is only a tool. Without the proper risk management practices in place, testing is meaningless. We are faced with the need to test water, soil amendments, process environments, equipment surfaces, and even seeds. You need to look at these in relationship to your risk assessment, and determine whether testing these factors will help you manage the risk better, or if the tests will help verify the effectiveness of a process.

    And, just as important as having a way to measure, is also to have a plan for responding to the results. Know what a positive test result means and how you will handle it before you get that positive result. Decision trees are great tools in situations like that. Also know who will interpret the data, and who will make the decision to ship or destroy products, to harvest or to walk by a field. These decisions can be painful because they can have bottom-line impact, so be prepared for that beforehand.

    Julia:
    Thank you, Bob. As always you have tough but constructive information for us. We’ll look forward to hearing more about the role of verification in risk assessment and management in the next post.

    To our listeners, thanks very much for joining us today!

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