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Frank Yiannas

Wal-Mart executive urges companies to develop ‘food safety culture’

“If you did food safety this year the way you did it last year, you’re going to lose.” The words of said Frank Yiannas (left), who is vice president of food safety for Wal-Mart Stores. In his keynote address at the 2011 American Meat Science Association Reciprocal Meat Conference recently, he said that food processors should go beyond traditional approaches to managing risk and work to develop a culture of food safety.

The conference was hosted by Kansas State University and co-sponsored by Cargill.

Speaking to the audience of university and industry meat scientists and students, Yiannas said that processors must go beyond the traditional strategies based on training, inspection and microbiological testing, which the industry has employed for years. While those strategies have improved over time, it’s important for companies to take new approaches.

“HACCP is a step in the right direction, but it’s not the final destination,” said Yiannas of the system that companies use in their food safety programs. He cited data showing that in cases of food-borne illness from 1993-1997, 37 percent were due to improper holding temperatures, 11 percent were due to inadequate cooking, and 19 percent were due to poor hygiene, noting that all of those cases were linked to human behaviour.

“Scientists often think of behaviour as the soft stuff (unlike microbiology), but the soft stuff is the hard stuff,” he said, adding that scientists tend to focus on the science when they should also be looking at the organizational structure of a company.

“Knowledge does not equal behaviour change,” he added.

“Food safety culture is a choice,” Yiannas said. The companies who are good at it:

•     Create food safety expectations

•     Educate and train their food employees

•     Communicate food safety messages frequently

•     Establish food safety goals and measurements; and

•     Have consequences, including rewards, for food safety behaviours.

“It’s a simple thing but recognising people for doing the right thing is effective,” he said.

Source: The Cattle Network

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