Food safety Frank: Go beyond government standards (remember the Pinto)

When Frank Yiannas left Disney to go work for Walmart, I asked, why?

He said something along the lines of, bigger brand, bigger influence.

frank.doug.manhattanFood safety Frank is using that influence.

As its aisles were bustling with holiday shoppers a week before Christmas this past December, Walmart and Sam’s Club stores announced to their poultry suppliers, details of plans to enhance food-safety requirements of whole chickens, chicken parts and ground turkey products shipped to its stores. The press release from the company said it would require poultry suppliers to achieve prevention-based certification by one of the Global Food Safety Initiative’s recognized standards. As part of the program, poultry suppliers will be expected to implement holistic controls, from farm to fork; the controls must significantly reduce potential contamination levels, in whole birds as well as in chicken parts. Suppliers will also be required to test and validate their food safety interventions. Lastly, poultry suppliers must be in compliance with the program by June 2016.

Led by Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for the retail giant, the announcement was hardly a surprise to its current suppliers, as the poultry industry had been consulted about the requirements for nearly a year before it was made public and hints about it were dropped back in 2010. From his Bentonville, Ark., office, Yiannas detailed the plans for the poultry safety initiative in early January. He explained how it is part of a continuous-improvement strategy that was developed using aspects of a 2010 plan introduced to enhance beef safety and how it is all part of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s farm-to-fork approach to food safety.

Frank Yiannas has three heroes in life. The charismatic food-safety guru for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is bullish about this short list, which includes: His father, Haralambos Yiannas; Louis Pasteur, to whom he refers to as the Founding Father of food safety; and Dr. Rudy Wodzinski, a professor who ignited his interest in microbiology during his studies at the Univ. of Central Florida where he earned his bachelor’s in microbiology before going on to receive a master’s degree in public health from the Univ. of South Florida. Dr. Wodzinski has passed away, but his impact on Yiannas was profound and continues to inspire him.

frank.amy.doug.jun.11“I can credit him for my career in food safety,” says Yiannas, who worked as the director of safety and health at Walt Disney World for 19 years before joining Walmart in 2008. His global role is daunting, considering the retailer operates about 4,400 Walmart stores and 650 Sam’s Club stores in the US. Worldwide, the company serves its customers 200 million times per week across 11,000 retail units in 27 countries.

The development of the poultry program reflected some of the successful aspects of a beef-safety initiative rolled out by Walmart in 2010. Also spearheaded by Yiannas, the beef-safety program challenged beef suppliers by requiring processors and slaughtering facilities to verify specific decreases in pathogen loads in a companywide effort to decrease E. coli and Salmonella on carcasses and processed beef. At that time, Yiannas admitted other species suppliers would likely face similar initiatives, but didn’t mention poultry or a target date specifically. Five years later, poultry processors are in the spotlight.

The four-part plan for poultry includes the following points:

1) Ensure chicken suppliers are sourcing from breeder stock suppliers that participate in USDA’s National Poultry Improvement Plan;

2) Require vaccination of parental flocks if a facility finds Salmonella serotypes of human health concern. This isn’t to replace eradication of the pathogen but an additional layer to address horizontal transmission via immunization;

3) Focus on whole birds by requiring suppliers to validate interventions they have in place and demonstrate a cumulative 4-log (99.99 percent) reduction of Salmonella on whole carcasses;

4) Because there was no standard or proposed standard on chicken parts at the time of its announcement, Walmart is requiring suppliers to implement interventions to reduce Salmonella at a minimum of 1 log on parts — or a 10-fold reduction, specifically on parts. Suppliers are being given extra time to comply with this requirement due to the fact it will likely require many in the industry to make significant changes in their production lines and processes.

Wal-Mart to focus on food safety in China: High-tech or high-touch?

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is focusing on food safety as the world’s largest retailer aims to boost profitability of its more than 400 stores in China, Wal-Mart Asia chief executive Scott Price told Reuters.

walmart“We play an important role in China delivering food safety and quality products to our customers,” Price said on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit, which begins on Sunday. “It’s a differentiator.”

Price said the company would “continue to invest very aggressively” with a focus on food quality and safety to push up traffic to Wal-Mart’s Chinese stores.

Wal-Mart said in June it would increase its spending on food safety in China to 300 million yuan ($49 million) in 2013, 2014 and 2015, up from a previously-announced 100 million yuan.

“The ‘fresh’ experience is an area where we can differentiate. We are the only retailer in China that has 100 percent of our ‘fresh’ going through distribution centres,” he said.

“China is a big part of the future game,” Price added. Last year in October, Wal-Mart announced plans to open up to 110 new facilities in China between 2014 and 2016.

Frank Yiannas vice-president food safety, Walmart, will tell the Dubai food safety conference that food safety awareness is at an all-time high, the food system is becoming increasingly complex, and foodborne outbreaks continue to be reported. Despite the fact that we – as a profession – have conducted millions of microbiological tests, trained vast numbers of food workers, and conducted countless number of inspections at home and abroad, food safety remains a significant public health challenge. Why is that?

frank.doug.manhattanTo advance food safety into the 21st century and further reduce the global burden of foodborne disease, there is no question about it, we need greater food safety innovations. However, there is considerable debate in the

profession on what and how exactly things need to change. For example, some food safety professionals believe that further reductions in foodborne disease hinge on science and technology, such as new detection methods, pathogen interventions, and new food production processes – often referred to as High Tech. Others, in contrast, believe that improvements in food safety are more dependent on highly skilled, motivated people and organizational cultures – referred to as High Touch.

Nosestretcher alert: me?

I did not invent the phrase “nosestretcher alert.”

Anyone who knows me long enough soon begins to realize I have about 187 snappy comebacks or phrases, primarily borrowed from sophomoric movies.

So while I’m grateful to Vicky Boyd of The Packer for saying is one of her must-reads, I have to clarify the phrase “nosestretcher alert” originated with Frank magazine, a must-read for me in Canada in the 1990s.

Frank, modeled after Private Eye in the U.K., skewered and mocked the rich, political and supposedly media savvy.

From wiki:

Frank often incorporates custom jargon and phrasing in articles. Examples include referring to news readers as “bingo callers,” public relations staff were referred to as “bum boys” and “fartcatchers.” When the magazine alluded to two famous Canadians having sexual relations, it would refer to them as “horizontal mambo partners.”

Frank also referred to many of Canada’s elite in a derogatory manner based upon their personalities, name, or other unique characteristics. Prime Ministers were always referred to by nicknames such as Byron Muldoon or Jean Crouton rather than their real names.

I had forgotten about bingo caller and fart catcher; I’ll have to start using them again – in honor of Frank.

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.

Wal-Mart to buy more locally grown produce

“No other retailer has the ability to make more of a difference than Wal-Mart.”

That’s what Wal-Mart president and chief executive Michael T. Duke said at a meeting Thursday morning, according to prepared remarks, as he announced a program that would focus on sustainable agriculture among its food suppliers, as the retail giant tries to expand its efforts to improve environmental efficiency.

The program is intended to put more locally grown food in Wal-Mart stores in the United States, invest in training and infrastructure for small and medium-sized farmers particularly in emerging markets and begin to measure the efficiently of large suppliers in growing and getting their produce to market.

The New York Times reports that given Wal-Mart is the world’s largest grocer, with one of the biggest food supply chains, any changes that it makes would have wide reaching implications. Wal-Mart’s decision five years ago to set sustainability goals that, among other things, increased its reliance on renewable energy and reduced packaging waste among its supplies, send broad ripples through product manufacturers. Large companies like Procter & Gamble redesigned packages that are now also carried by other retailers, while Wal-Mart’s measurements of environmental efficiency among its suppliers helped define how they needed to change.

I don’t know anything other than what I’ve read in the media, but it’s a fair guess that food safety culture Frank is going to have a lot to do with making sure any sustainability gains are coupled with enhanced food safety.

Michelle Mauthe Harvey, project manager for the corporate partnerships program at Environmental Defense Fund, said,

“This is huge. Once people are asked those questions, if they haven’t been measuring, they measure more.”

Go big or go home.