Good governance for food safety management

If there’s one food, safety types will not eat, it’s raw sprouts. Alfalfa, mung bean, pea and clover, they tend to be the same microbiological shithole.

Costco and Walmart stopped selling them five years ago in the U.S.

It’s impossible to get a sandwich or salad in Australia without sprouts.

I’ve written chefs who should not be serving raw sprouts to immunocomprised people in hospitals.

They poo-pooed my concerns.

My South Australian colleague, Andrew Thomson, is the company director for Think ST Solutions, a food consultancy offering practical solutions to both management and staff in hospitals, aged-care facilities, restaurants, hotels and the food industry.

Thomson writes in his latest column for Hospital Health that it’s time for the health- and aged-care sectors to move beyond meeting minimum compliance requirements and strive for business excellence in food safety management systems.

Health- and aged-care organisations face challenges and high expectations from an array of stakeholders, regulatory and accreditation agencies, and consumers. The area of food safety is no exception. Despite this, many organisations are achieving minimum regulatory compliance and failing to recognise related risks until after a serious episode occurs.

It is essential that board directors of health- and aged-care organisations, or those about to take on these roles, understand their role and responsibilities. It is important to be aware of food laws and other regulatory requirements, and ensure that organisations abide by them.

As far back as 1997, Winsome McCaughey AO, the former chief executive of the Australia New Zealand Food Authority, outlined the broad policy framework for food regulatory reform in Australia. The reforms promoted a risk-based approach to food safety management, which is consistent with international guidelines on risk analysis. Central to this approach was the introduction of national food safety standards.

The national food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, has developed standards that require food safety programs to be implemented in high-risk sectors, such as those providing food services to vulnerable persons. Food businesses providing potentially hazardous food to vulnerable persons — including hospital patients, aged-care residents and children in childcare centres — are captured by these requirements, in addition to businesses that prepare and deliver meals to vulnerable people in the home.

Health- and aged-care organisations need to ensure that risks to food safety management within their business are properly identified, reported and controlled.

The key action points for boards of directors to embrace are:

Understand and accept their role and responsibility in food safety leadership.

Understand and accept, at an individual board member level, the accountability for the role.

Understand the organisation’s obligations under various (food) legislation.

Create clearly defined policies on accountabilities, risk and reporting.

Consider the food safety implications of board decisions.

Oversee management actions in food safety matters.
The board should also agree on how to incorporate food safety management into existing governance structures; how to set objectives and monitor performance of the business and food-related risks; and the appointment of a board member as its food safety ‘champion’ — a nominated food safety director who will take the lead on ensuring that the board’s food safety management responsibilities are properly discharged.

The governance of an organisation involves the establishment of a framework of values, processes and practices designed to regulate, monitor and provide effective reporting on organisational performance. Through this framework, boards and directors exercise their governing authority and make decisions to achieve the organisation’s purpose and goals. Directors ensure the organisation operates effectively and ethically, and complies with all laws and regulations.

Food safety governance is as important as any other aspect of governance. It is also a fundamental part of an organisation’s risk management strategy, which is a key responsibility of a board of directors. Both the board and its management team have a duty to exercise due diligence to ensure that the organisation complies with its food safety duties and obligations. Failure to effectively manage food safety risk has both human and business costs — this includes damaged reputations and potential prosecution.

It is important to distinguish between governance and management practices. Directors should focus on governance-related issues — determining the organisation’s purpose, developing an effective governance culture, holding management to account and ensuring effective performance and compliance. Directors work with management to develop strategy and business plans which are then implemented by management.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for establishing effective governance for food safety management, as the structures and levels of engagement vary with the size and complexity of the organisations involved. There are a number of basic questions that a board of directors can ask itself to assist in creating the right business culture:

How does the board assure itself that the food safety management system has been fully implemented across the organisation?

How does the board assure itself that the organisation is demonstrating its commitment to food safety?

How does the board verify that the organisation’s food safety strategic and operational risks have been adequately identified and assessed, with appropriate mitigation strategies implemented?

What relevant information is the board receiving on food safety management? Is this reporting sufficient?

What processes are in place to inform board members of the results (and actions taken) from internal and external audits and comprehensive senior management reviews to ensure the food safety management system is fit for purpose?

How does the board satisfy itself that the organisation has food-handling employees and managers that are competent and adequately trained in their food safety responsibilities and accountabilities?

Does the organisation have sufficient resources (people, equipment, systems and budget) for managing its food safety management systems?

What approach does the board use to compare the performance of the food safety management system with comparable organisations? How does it monitor and rate its organisation’s performance?
In regards to competency and adequate food safety training, shrinking training budgets and providing employees with traditional training approaches to basic compliance training is one area for urgent change if an organisation is to flourish.

The decades-long and less desirable training practice used by many organisations relies on herding as many employees as possible to undertake (any form of) training and then show the regulator and/or accreditation assessors the training records. This approach fails on several fronts: it does not provide employees with the skills they urgently need for doing their job now and in the future; lacks the required processes when employees learn new skills and behaviours; and does not address developing the best employees for future roles. Questions relating to employee learning strategies, skills development, performance and systems improvement, and measuring training success are largely overlooked by senior leaders and the regulator.

RMIT Online and Deloitte Access Economics recently released Ready, set, upskill: Effective training for the jobs of tomorrow. This report provides fresh insights into post-COVID skill needs; how prepared Australians feel for a changing workplace; and where employers should invest in training to prepare for what’s ahead.

Modern approaches to learning in the workplace necessitate a model of continuous learning and supporting employee learning — it moves beyond designing and delivering one-off training programs.

A comprehensive table of sprout-related outbreaks can be found here.

On the toilet 30X a day: UK couple’s Mexico holiday hell after contracting Cyclospora

Tony Larner of the Mirror reports a British couple’s dream Mexican holiday was left in tatters after they were struck down Cyclospora. and Lee Harper splashed out £3,700 on an all-inclusive Thomson break to Riviera Maya resort, near Cancun.

But the couple, from Birmingham, were unable to leave their room for almost a week after falling ill with Cyclospora and needing the toilet up to 30 times every day.

The pair claim they complained about their illness and hygiene issues at their hotel to Thomson, but did not got a reply until after they arrived home, the Birmingham Mail reported.

UK Health officials have issued warnings about visiting the area after almost 100 Brits were struck down with the bug since the outbreak began in June.

A spokesthingy for Thomson said: “Public Health England has advised us of a number of sickness cases associated to an issue called Cyclospora in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico.”

An issue called Cyclospora?

“Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.”

’What do you expect in a hotel full of 400 people;’ holiday from hell for UK couple

It’s becoming a standard headline out of the U.K. – folks trying to leave the dreariness of England and end up barfing at some Mediterranean resort.

The North-West Evening Mail reports that Tony and Linda Kneale are among 28 holidaymakers from the UK involved in legal action against Thomson over claims it failed to protect tourists from illness at the Los Gigantes Hotel in Tenerife.

The couple, of Jesmond Avenue, Barrow, had spent over £1,800 for a fortnight at the ‘Gold’ status hotel.

But their dream break became a holiday from hell when, on arrival, they received a factsheet saying there was a norovirus outbreak.

61-year-old Mrs Kneale spent two days confined to her bed, and lost around half a stone. She became so weak she could barely walk further than her hotel room.

Mrs Kneale, who, along with her husband had been keen to get away after missing out on a holiday last year when she lost her mother, said: “ I had absolutely no appetite and I had a fever. It’s a nasty bug. …

“When I first got the virus, the travel rep said: ‘What do you expect in a hotel full of 400 people?’ They were defensive about it, almost blasé about it.”

UK operator ordered to pay damages to tourists sickened in Spain

British tourists always seem to be getting sick on their vacations to southern locales and they always seem to be battling with tour operators.

In 2003, a bunch went to Baulo Hotel in Majorca and contracted either salmonella from poorly prepared food or cryptosporidium from the swimming pool.

In 2006, the claimants initiated legal action.

Today a judge ruled that one of the UK’s largest tour operators should have warned holidaymakers about an outbreak of illness at a Spanish resort.

The judge said that Thomson, which is now part of the larger European Tui group, was liable for damages.

In what may have wider implications for the travel industry, the judge also ruled that Thomson ought to have warned guests about the outbreak at the hotel before they travelled, in order to give them an opportunity to either rebook or cancel, but had failed to do so.

Thomson accepted its liability in the salmonella cases, but argued that in the cases of cryptosporidium, it could not have done more to get rid of the illness from the resort, adding,

"We are very disappointed with the decision as we sincerely believe that we did everything in our power to safeguard our customers’ wellbeing at the time."

The company said the real winners would be "the ‘no win no fee’ solicitors involved."

Salmonella strikes baby at 4-star hotel

A couple whose baby fell seriously ill with food poisoning at a four-star hotel are taking action against holiday firm Thomson.??

Metropolitan police officer Ediz Mevlit, 35, and wife Jenny said today it was “terrifying” watching daughter Melissa suffer from the salmonella (photo, right, from the Evening Standard).

The London Evening Standard reports that the child, now 15-months-old, contracted the bacteria on a £1,500 Moroccan holiday to the Royal Atlas hotel in September, the family’s first foreign trip.

Mrs Mevlit, 28, said her daughter was sick for three weeks and may suffer long-term health problems.

The couple also had mild stomach cramps. They said they spoke to others who suffered food poisoning at the hotel. One couple reported on website Trip Advisor that much of what was available at the Royal Atlas was “inedible.”

The 338-bedroom hotel in Agadir is exclusive to Thomson customers. Thomson said all the hotels it used “are closely monitored to ensure the highest health, safety and comfort levels are maintained”, adding: “As this case is being investigated by our legal team, we are unfortunately unable to comment any further.”

Barf and barfblog, personal and travel versions

Amy started barfing about 10 p.m. Thursday night. Daughter Sorenne woke up about 6 a.m., covered in barf. I felt fine, did laundry and chores, fed Sorenne some stuff about 9 a.m. before I had to go give a lecture to the third-year Vet class.

She projectile vomited all over me.

Emma the excellent babysitter showed up at 9 a.m., I did my talk about barfblog, smelling like baby barf, and came home and took care of things.

About 11 p.m. Friday night, I started barfing.

We had friends over for dinner Thursday night, but they seem fine, so probably something we ate earlier in the week. There was perhaps some dodgy seafood, but I cooked it thoroughly, verifying the results with a tip-sensitive digital thermometer.

There are so many unknowns with foodborne illness it’s amazing anything gets linked back to an original source.

There was a lot of barfing at the four-star Los Gigantes Hotel – a property exclusive to Thomson on an island belonging to Spain on the west coast.

The U.K.Telegraph reports it is alleged that Thomson failed to ensure proper hygiene standards were enforced and did not provide adequate assistance or information as to the severity of the outbreak.

Thomson said in a statement:

"In January, an independent hygiene consultant confirmed that the hotel was operating to the highest standards and concluded that a viral agent was the most probable cause of any illness. The hotel has adopted procedures set by its own consultants and local government. The hygiene consultant witnessed these and has advised that they appear to follow good practice. There is advisory documentation on personal hygiene in bedrooms and sanitising gel stations are located in the main restaurant."

Thomson said that normal booking conditions will continue to apply, therefore amendments to holidays at the hotel will be subject to charge.

That’s a polite way of saying, screw you, sickies.