Wal-Mart has a vice president of food safety. And he just upped the ante for companies doing business with Wal-Mart.
But I’m not sure he got the point right.
Speaking at the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Executive Conference in Colorado Springs, Colo, Wal-Mart’s Frank Yiannas spoke about creating a culture of food safety at our nation’s largest food processing companies.
"The Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 is talking about traceability and we are saying it needs to go beyond traceability," he said. "It doesn’t simply matter where your food came from. You need to know how it was produced; you need to know what is in your product.
"We saw after the Peanut Corporation of America event that it took some manufacturers weeks to figure out they had P.C.A. ingredients in their products. This is simply unacceptable. We will expect more from suppliers."
And he told these guys that this culture of food safety must start at the executive level. I buy that.
He also said instead of more rules we just need to do a better job policing and enforcing the safety standards at our food processors.
I also buy that.
But I think he missed an opportunity to plant the seeds for an education program that would really make a difference.
We in agriculture take a huge amount of responsibility for maintaining a safe food supply. But what about the consumer’s responsibility?
Those of us above a certain age have been taught through home economics classes to cook everything properly: proper handling, proper washing, proper temperature, proper time at that temperature and proper ways to hold and store food before and after the first meal it was served at.
Now I’m not saying that kids aren’t learning that today. But I think smaller numbers of our population are learning it or practicing the correct procedures to kill pathogens when that food arrives in the kitchen.
Yiannas told the grocery executives that they are part of a race.
“I feel like, in general, the industry is in a race. . . . The race is between public health’s ability to track foodborne illness outbreaks and industy’s ability to prevent foodborne illnesses. I think some in this industry are losing the race. I would suggest there are some food manufacturers who have (in years past) produced food that may have resulted in illnesses and they don’t even know about it."
But I think he should have referred to our industry’s portion of the race as a three-legged race. One where ag shares the responsibility with consumers to make sure that the product is handled appropriately from farm to plate.
And who is better positioned than Wal-Mart to start educating consumers about the role they play in food safety issues?
If the responsibility isn’t shared, then those of us in ag are running a losing race.
See more of Yiannas’ comments at: http://www.foodbusinessnews.net/news/headline_stories.asp?ArticleID=105581
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