Industry and Government Talk Food Safety

Government and industry don’t usually agree on much. But at the 10th annual Food Safety & Security Summit in Washington, D.C., in March, the consensus was clear: Food safety is not only good for the public’s health, it’s good for business. Food safety leaders from Coca-Cola, Walt Disney, the National Restaurant Association, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Association of Food and Drug Officials spoke at the meeting about ensuring food safety—and the bottom line.

Most Recognized and Respected

Rick Frazier, senior vice president of technical stewardship at Coca-Cola, explained how his company “navigated from the world’s most recognized brand to the most respected brand.” Frazier said the company based its success on a “3R Strategy”: minimize risk, grow revenue, and enhance reputation.

Following recent recalls, the media, he said, is creating a perception that food is less safe than people think. In response, Coca-Cola is focusing on mitigating all potential food safety risks. In 2005, the company invested $25 million in analytical tools to monitor the standards of its factories. Last year, the tools were used to analyze 340,000 samples, he said. “The key to our success in improving is reviewing with rigor and routine,” he said.

The company also sets global standards for its 700,000 employees working in over 200 countries. Local experts ensure that each location is meeting food safety guidelines. This ensures that quality is consistent, he said. “A Coke is a Coke anywhere on Earth,” he added.

To enhance its reputation, Frazier said the company envisions building “an organization that would advance the integrity of our brands and our company by shaping the scientific, regulatory, environmental, and quality landscape through leading science-based standards, policies, and processes that are beyond reproach in the court of public opinion and build stakeholder trust in us, our products, and our performance.“

As part of this plan, Coca-Cola is focusing on more environmentally friendly production methods—relying on less water use and using recyclable bottles, for example. Frazier also said that company transparency is important in building trust with customers. When a food safety issue does arise, he said, companies should share what they know with the public and employees. “The public expects it and employees deserve it,” he said.

A Vicious Race

Frank Yiannas, director of safety and health at the Walt Disney World Company, said the food industry must prepare for what he called a rise in foodborne illnesses. “We are in a vicious race,” he said, with industry prevention lagging behind public health detection.

Yiannas emphasized that the future of food safety is in both “high-tech” and “high-touch” approaches. “Advancements in food safety are not only advancements in science and technology, what we call high tech, but it also depends on advancements of high touch, or softer skills such as leadership and human behavior,” he said in an interview with Food Quality magazine.

A food safety plan, for example, will decide how many times a day foods should be inspected and at what temperatures the foods need to be maintained. But a good manager, using a high-touch strategy, will make sure the plan is executed or will change the plan if it isn’t good enough, Yiannas said.

An example of a technological innovation, he said, is the use of strategic control points to control Escherichia coli at slaughterhouses rather than farther down the production line. “There’s a lot of data; we need tools to make sense of it,” he said.

A challenge to this strategy, however, is the consumer trend toward purchasing more natural, fresh food products. For example, more and more people are now purchasing unpasteurized milk or juices, Yiannas said. “We’re going to have to look at different ways of controlling microbiological hazards,” as opposed to strategies used for products like canned foods that have absolute control points, he said. The entire industry will need to learn how to produce natural but safe products, he added.

Is Your Food Safe?

Richard Rivera, chairman of the board of the National Restaurant Association, spoke about the need to gain consumers’ trust in the wake of recent recalls. These include the beef recall in early 2008, the largest beef recall in United State’s history, he said, as well as the E. coli outbreak in spinach in the fall of 2006.

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