Food safety indifference

When I repeat a breakout drill on the ice rink for 6-9-year-olds playing hockey – in Australia — I can see the parents rolling their eyes, yet the same parents marvel at the improvement when it comes to games. takes time. It takes effort. It takes fun.

I’ve been playing, coaching and sometimes administrating hockey for almost 50 years.

I’ve been playing, coaching and sometimes administrating microbial food safety things for 23 years (I’m old – two grandsons).

There’s not much difference.

Except one group is little kids trying to learn things, and the other is adults, paid money, who seem to want to make money.

And not learn.

Food safety indifference is the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my professoring or professional career: How to get people to care in the absence of an outbreak?

I’ve had the good fortune to work with industry types around the globe who recognized risk and were proactive – but it was really about trade, not fewer sick people.

indifferenceFrom Sara Lee in 1998 to Maple Leaf Foods in 2008 to Blue Bell today, companies act with shock and compassion when they find out they sickened people – in all these cases with Listeria — but a reflective glance is more critical.

They all had Listeria positives, but no one got sick yesterday, so the assumption is there’s a greater probability no one will get sick tomorrow.

Nice approach, until you get caught.

In Sept. 2014, 130 Canadians were sickened with E. coli O157 in pork.

Not the usual vehicle.

When a Canadian television station tried to do a follow-up in 2015, they were blocked by government and industry at every step.

Global News went through a years-long access-to-information process to obtain incident reports on E. coli found in Canadian food plants, most of it redacted.

How is it that 22 years after Jack-in-the-Box, North Americans seem to be adopting an attitude of indifference to food safety?

There’s lots of outbreaks, and communications research would suggest people are overloaded, so what’s a food safety type to do?

There is so much bad food safety advice that circulates in the PR-driven media, I’m not sure: How many years can anyone spend saying, you’re scientifically full of crap, stop it.

Food safety types need to persevere against the push for profit and stick with the message and the medium.

The best companies will do more than have manufactured soundbites about how food safety is their number 1 priority.

It doesn’t match up with reality, and food safety types, you’ll be needed sooner than you think.

Make food safety data public; market microbial food safety at retail; and repeat.

We won the game last week because the kids knew the drill, we’d practiced it, and we had fun.

Food safety should be the same.

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety at the University of Guelph in Canada and Kansas State University in the U.S., who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

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