Ryk Lues, professor of food safety, faculty of health and environmental sciences, at Central University of Technology in South Africa spoke about training and influencing food safety behaviors, pointing out that “Behind every food safety system there is a human being” with all the aspects that influence their behaviors, such as needs, emotions, and cultures. As such, “knowledge doesn’t equal behavior change” when it comes to training. Lues cautioned industry to stop thinking in terms of “them,” i.e. the workers, and start thinking in terms of “us,” i.e. workers and management.
Mainstream media has certainly done its fair share of reporting on the food safety issues in China. According to Joseph J. Jen, former Under Secretary of USDA in charge of Research, Education and Economics, “Historically, China has little or no food safety culture.” Jen pointed to two traditions that reflect this attitude. First, the Chinese believes that the human body’s own immune system is the best food safety defense. Second, China consists of big risk takers when it comes to a chance to make money, even if the result is unsafe food. Jen commented that part of the problem is chemical rather than microbial in nature. In China, there is a “more is better than less” mentality, which is translating to more use of pesticides and antibiotics. The good news is that large food companies in China are starting to take food safety seriously—meanwhile many of the small and medium size businesses are in need of food safety knowledge and training.
Re-thinking HACCP was on many experts minds. According to Robert L. Buchanan, director and professor at the Center for Food Safety and Security Systems, University of Maryland, HACCP tends to focus on elimination of risk though it wasn’t designed for that. The identification of hazards, control points, the establishment of limits, and the subsequent monitoring and verification isn’t enough. He said that too many people think HACCP is distinct from risk assessment and identified two risk types: the risk of compliance and the residual risk associated with the product even when the system is under control. That’s where stringency is needed. Buchanan urged that HACCP needs to evolve through bold thinking and courageous leadership.
SGS Global held a noteworthy discussion that reviewed results of its allergen management survey. Evangelia Komitopoulou, PhD, global technical manager – food, SGS, stressed the fact that allergen labeling is causing confusion among consumers due to the overuse of precautionary labels. The discussion also turned to the difficulty behind setting allergen thresholds. Joe Baumert, assistant professor at the Department of Food Science and Technology and co-director for the Food Allergy Research & Resource Program for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln pointed out that there is a large difference in individual thresholds—some people are sensitive to the tiniest of elements where as others have a higher tolerance. In addition, there are no laws about how clean is clean enough. There is still much work that needs to be done in this sector, including the fact that auditors need better training on allergens as there are many inconsistencies.
Another interesting topic was brought up during the Sealed Air Diversey session on how ethnography can be used to change food safety practices. With Sealed Air’s help, the retail giant Target was able to conduct an ethnographic study in its stores—interviewing and observing its food service employees in naturally occurring environment. Through the study, Target identified “why” something happens and got better insights in improving its training practices. However, Benjamin Chapman, PhD, a former professor of food safety and the publisher of www.barfblog.com, was quick to remind that more training does not matter unless you can make the food handlers care.