Blame game erupts in tragic New Brunswick outbreak

There’s lots of talk about an organization creating and fostering a positive food safety culture, with much of the of focus being internal. Food safety goes beyond what the organization controls in day-to-day activities (like internal value systems, processes, training, support, and others).

A retailer doesn’t have a good food safety culture if it only places resources on their own staff and ignores suppliers’ actions and fails to communicate risks to consumers.image

Same thing goes for a place that rents space to others. Keeping the equipment up to standard is one thing, but if you truly value food safety you also need to check out who is using the space and gauge their ability to manage risks. And that’s not easy.

The consequence of just being a place that rents space and doesn’t work with the users is that if something bad happens (like 30 illnesses and a death) you’re all in it together.

Just ask the Nackawic Lions Club.

According to CTV news, the Lions Club, which supplied space for a local church function is trying to distance themselves from the outbreak.

The Lions Club kitchen in Nackawic, N.B. The club says it is not responsible for a dinner that left one woman dead and more than 30 people ill earlier this month.

Two different illness-causing bacteria were later found in food samples collected from the dinner, the province’s acting chief medical officer of health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, said in a statement.

Now, Brian Toole, the president of the Nackawic Lions Club, is trying to mend the club’s reputation. He says the church, not the Lions Club, provided the food that night, but people have mistakenly blamed the club for the unsafe meal.

“It was an unfortunate incident,” Toole said. “But the Lions Club and their food preparation, we had nothing to do with it.”

The Lions Club kitchen is inspected on a regular basis, and members have taken government-sponsored food safety courses. Now, they are also considering requiring groups renting the space to take the same precautions (uh, yeah, that’s what the good organizations do -ben).

Here are our conclusions on creating a good food safety culture from a 2011 Food Control paper (blaming others doesn’t really fit).

Individuals focusing on food safety risks within an organization with a good food safety culture:

– know the risks associated with the foods they handle and how those should be managed;

– dedicate resources to evaluating supplier practices;

– stay up-to-date on emerging food safety issues;

– foster a value system within the organization that focuses on avoiding illnesses;

-communicate compelling and relevant messages regarding risk-reduction activities and – empower others to put them into practice;

– promote effective food safety systems before an incident occurs;

– and, do not blame customers (including commercial buyers and end consumers) when illnesses are linked to their products.

This entry was posted in Food Safety Culture and tagged , , by Ben Chapman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.