Wal-Mart Frank encourages food companies to develop food safety culture

Before we had lunch last month, Wal-Mart Frank told the 2011 American Meat Science Association Reciprocal Meat Conference in Manhattan (Kansas), “If you did food safety this year the way you did it last year, you’re going to lose,” and that food processors should go beyond traditional approaches to managing risk and work to develop a culture of food safety.

Yiannas, vice president of food safety for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 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 Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point 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 behavior.

“Scientists often think of behavior 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 behavior change. 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 behaviors.

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