Wal-Mart Frank: Are you a food safety manager or a food safety leader?

There goes WalMart Frank again, hammering home the need for food safety leaders and that culture thing.

Frank Yiannas, vice president – food safety, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. writes in the latest Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) newsletter that management and leadership are different. A manager’s job is to oversee and optimize organizational processes to deliver results. A leader’s job is to change the process to deliver even greater results.

Frank says one term (management or leadership) is not inferior or superior to the other. They’re just different: and the food safety world need both; — good food safety management and more food safety leadership — as they are both critical to protecting public health.

• Food safety management focuses on the administration of set procedures within an established risk management system; food safety leadership focuses on the creation of new, science-based, and more effective risk reduction strategies, models, and processes. This quote by Stephen Covey illustrates this point quote well. He said, “Management works in the system; leadership works on the system.”

• Food safety management relies on formal authority to accomplish its objectives; food safety leadership relies on the ability to influence others to achieve success. Traditionally, food safety managers coerce others to comply because they have authority over them or their operation. In other words, they get others to comply by holding people and organizations accountable. Food safety leaders, in contrast, get others to do the right thing not because they’re being held accountable, but because they’ve been able to influence them to want to do so. They help others become responsible for food safety – not just accountable for food safety. There is a big difference between the two.

• Food safety management involves working with others based on functional roles; food safety leadership involves working with others in a collaborative manner. Food safety managers work with others in traditional ways to accomplish their objectives. Often times, whether visible or not, they’re protecting their organization’s interests whether it be academia, regulatory, or industry. In contrast, food safety leaders seek genuine win-win solutions for all stakeholders. They recognize they can do more to advance food safety by working constructively with others than by working alone.

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.

Walmart’s Yiannas: ‘test the process, not the product’

Frank Yiannas, corporate vice president, food safety for Walmart says the focus of food borne illness prevention has to move earlier in the supply chain — long before processors are testing for it and product is getting into consumers’ hands.

Meatingplace.com reports that Yiannas, told processors at the North American Meat Processors Association’s annual management conference in Chicago on Saturday retailers are willing to work with suppliers on reasonable cost increases related to improved meat product safety.

Yiannas, author of the aptly-titled 2009 book, Food Safety Culture, said the HACCP system is no longer applied in the way it was originally conceived and testing is ineffective, adding, “E. coli is present in such low levels, it can still cause illness but it’s hard to find. Even at N-120, a processor is going to be pretty sure [the tests will be] negative.”

And the industry can’t afford to put safety solely in the hands of the product’s final cook, he warned.

The best way forward is to “test the process, not the product,” he said. That is, if processors (and producers) work with a verifiably high level of safety, then the chances that the product is safe further down the line is exponentially higher.

Overseeing these efforts should be third-party certification programs, such as the Safe Quality Food program overseen by the Food Manufacturers Institute, Yiannas said. Their standards typically are more comprehensive and exacting than those issued by the government, and the third-party assurances carry weight in the market.

In answer to a question about the additional costs these programs and perhaps interventions require, Yiannas said, “Retailers are willing to share (in reasonable additional costs). There are always tradeoffs, but I have hundreds of example in which that made sense.”

Canadian Walmart deli worker with hepatitis A; immunizations to employees and public

A deli worker in a Duncan, B.C. Walmart (that’s in Canada) has tested positive for hepatitis A so the local health types are offering hepatitis A immunizations “to eligible members of the general public who have consumed certain deli products from the delicatessen in the Duncan Walmart.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority recommends members of the public who consumed ready-to-eat food, including sliced meat and cheese, from the delicatessen at the store between December 30, 2010 and January 4, 2011, or consumed meat or cheese sliced at the deli counter from January 5 to January 10, 2011 should receive hepatitis A vaccine as a precaution. Individuals who ate or purchased deli items after this time period are not at risk of contracting the disease.

This alert DOES NOT (sic) apply to produce or other foods purchased from the grocery department or to foods from the McDonalds restaurant located in the Walmart.

I don’t know why the press release writers think putting words in all caps will make readers pay double super-secret attention to the warning.

Lousy food safety auditors put public and brands at risk

The voluntary quality control system widely used in the nation’s $1 trillion domestic food industry is rife with conflicts of interest, inexperienced auditors and cursory inspections that produce inflated ratings, according to food retail executives and other industry experts.

I’ve been saying that for a long time, but this is the Washington Post version, published this morning. I especially like the pictures of the Montgomery Burns Awards for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence, courtesy of AIB, the Manhattan, Kansas-based audiots that gave a stellar rating to PCA and Wright Eggs just prior to terrible food safety outbreaks and revelations of awful production conditions (see below).

The system has developed primarily because large chain stores and food producers, such as Kellogg’s, want assurances about the products they place on their shelves and the ingredients they use in making food. To get that, they often require that their suppliers undergo regular inspections by independent auditors. This all takes place outside any government involvement and without any signals – stamps of approval, for instance – to consumers. (That’s four-year-old Zoe Warren, right, of Bethesda, who was hospitalized in 2007 after contracting salmonella poisoning after eating a chicken pot pie. The photo is by Susan Biddle for the Washington Post.)

The third-party food safety audit scheme that processors and retailers insisted upon is, in many cases, no better than a financial Ponzi scheme. The vast number of facilities and suppliers means audits are required, but people have been replaced by paper.

In fact, most foodmakers, even those with problems, sail through their inspections, said Mansour Samadpour, who owns a food-testing firm that does not perform audits. "I have not seen a single company that has had an outbreak or recall that didn’t have a series of audits with really high scores.”

Third-party food audits, like restaurant inspection, are a snapshot in time. Given the international sourcing of ingredients, audits are a requirement, but so is internal food safety intelligence to make sense of audits that are useful and audits that are chicken poop.

Industry experts say some "third-party" inspections can be rigorous. Those that audit using internationally recognized private benchmarks "are much more thorough," said Robert Brackett, former senior vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. "But they’re less likely to be used because they are much more expensive."

Audits, inspections, training and systems are no substitute for developing a strong food safety culture, farm-to-fork, and marketing food safety directly to consumers rather than the local/natural/organic hucksterism is a way to further reinforce the food safety culture.

Will Daniels, who oversees food safety for Earthbound Farm, the folks who brought E. coli O157:H7 in bagged spinach in 2006 that sickened 199 and killed four, said, Earthbound regularly received top ratings in third-party audits, including one exactly a month before the tainted spinach was processed, adding,

"No one should rely on third-party audits to insure food safety."

“… if the incentive is to pass with flying colors, it creates a disincentive to air your dirty laundry and get dinged and lose a customer over it.”

After the E. coli outbreak, Earthbound put in place an aggressive testing and safety program that includes outside audits but also requires Earthbound’s own inspectors to show up unannounced to check suppliers. The company tests its greens for pathogens when they arrive from farms and again when they are packaged.

Too bad Earthbound didn’t figure all this out after the 28 other outbreaks involving leafy greens prior to the deadly 2006 outbreak.

Cost is another factor.

Food companies often choose the cheapest auditors to minimize the added expense of inspections, which range from about $1,000 to more than $25,000.

The foodmakers can prepare for audits because they often know when inspectors will show up.

And auditors have a range of experience and qualifications, from recent college graduates to retired food industry veterans. They sometimes walk through a plant, ticking off a checklist to produce a score, Samadpour said. Basic inspections do not typically include microbial sampling for bacteria.

In a written response to questions, Brian Soddy, AIB‘s vice president of marketing and sales, said company audits are intended to give food manufacturers "guidance and education for improvement."

Producers have the ultimate responsibility, he said, adding that the audits are voluntary and not intended to replace any FDA regulatory inspections.
AIB said last week that it is reevaluating its "superior" and "excellent" rating systems because they "have led to confusion in the wake of recent incidents," Soddy wrote.

Some retailers include inspections as just one piece of their safety programs.

Costco, for example, has its own inspectors but also requires its estimated 4,000 food vendors to have their products inspected according to a detailed 10-page list of criteria. Private auditors must X-ray all products for "sticks and stones, bones in seafood – anything you can think of that might be in hot dogs, baked goods, outside of produce," said Craig Wilson, Costco’s assistant vice president for food safety and quality assurance.

Costco maintains an approved list of about nine audit firms. The list does not include AIB.

Wal-Mart requires suppliers of private-label food products sold in its stores and Sam’s Club to be audited using private internationally recognized standards.

In addition to conducting its own product testing, Giant Food requires its vendors to be audited from a list of about a dozen approved firms.

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.

Traditional food safety management vs. behavior-based food safety management

Frank Yiannas, vp of food safety at Walmart and the author of the 2009 book, Food Safety Culture, penned a piece for GFSI’s (Global Food Safety Initiative) latest newsletter about why behavior-based food safety management is key to enhancing food safety. An edited excerpt is below:

The term food safety management system, as traditionally used, often refers to a system that includes having prerequisite programs in place, good manufacturing practices (GMPs), a Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Point plan, a recall procedure, and so on. It’s a very process focused system. A behavior-based food safety management system is process focused, but it’s also people focused.

At the end of the day, food safety equals behavior. And to improve the food safety performance of your organization, you have to change people’s behaviors.

Traditional food safety managers are focused on the principles of food safety, temperature control, and sanitation – the food sciences. They believe that managing these scientific principles will lead to food safety success.

Behavior-based food safety managers have mastery over the food sciences. But they understand that the food sciences are not enough. They understand that achieving food safety success requires not only an understanding of the food sciences, but of the behavioral sciences too. Accordingly, they are students of behavioral change theories, the behavioral sciences, and principles related to organizational culture.

Traditional food safety managers place an overemphasis on training and inspections in an attempt to change behavior and achieve results. They believe that desired behavior change can be achieved by simply training employees and inspecting processes and conditions against established standards. But as stated so elegantly by B.F. Skinner (1953), behavior is a difficult subject, not because it is inaccessible, but because it is extremely complex. While both of these activities (training and inspections) are important, behavior-based food safety managers realize they are not enough to achieve food safety success. They understand the complexity of behavior and, before jumping to an overly simplistic solution; they study and analyze the cause of the performance problem (lack of skill, ineffective work system, lack of motivation, etc) to propose the right solution.

Traditional food safety management often addresses specific food safety concerns and strategies in isolation or as individual components, not as a whole or complete system. In other words, it approaches food safety with a sort of linear cause-and-effect thinking. Behavior-based food safety management realizes that this sort of linear cause-and-effect thinking is not fully adequate to address complex issues related to an organization’s food safety culture or an employee’s adherence to food safety practices.

Behavior-based food safety management understands that there are numerous factors (physical, organizational, personal) that affect performance and they consider the totality of the numerous activities an organization may conduct and how they are linked together to influence people’s thoughts and behaviors.

Traditional food safety management relies on formal authority to accomplish objectives. Food safety managers get others to follow them or their program because they have authority over them and hold them accountable to the rules. Behavior-based food safety managers also use a system of checks and balances, but they use them differently. For example, they use them to observe employee behaviors related to food safety, give feedback and coaching (both positive and negative) based on the results, and provide motivation for continuous improvement.

More importantly, behavior-based food safety managers have figured out a way to go beyond accountability. They’ve figured out a way to get employees at all levels of the organization to do the right things, not because they’re being held accountable to them, but because they believe in and are committed to food safety. They create a food safety culture.

I’m from government and here to help

“Hi, I’m from the government, I’m here to help” is the worst thing to say to a farmer.

We discovered that decades ago by hanging out with farmers, and help them develop meaningful, but non-intrusive on-farm food safety programs.

I don’t understand why a whole bunch of food safety types waste enormous amounts of energy and goodwill lobbying Washington and asking the feds to do more.

Walmart, Costco and McDonald’s do more to advance food safety in a day than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does in a year. All those people doing the Potomac two-step in Washington, wanting more food safety inspections, and ignoring the advice of former Food and Drug Administration food safety czar David Acheson, who last year said there is a lot more to ensuring a food supply than writing laws, and that “food safety is cultural,” are getting exactly what is to be expected.

The New York Times reports this morning that a delay in sending safety inspectors to egg farms after this summer’s salmonella outbreak and egg recall can be traced in part to a parking mistake outside a pair of Pennsylvania henhouses, according to industry executives and state government officials.

Marilyn F. Balmer, a top egg expert for the Food and Drug Administration, was training inspectors in July to enforce the agency’s new egg safety rule when she parked the van she was driving near a henhouse at a farm in Manheim, Pa. She did it again during another session at a farm in Lancaster.

Ms. Balmer was in Pennsylvania to teach inspectors about how to keep germs away from poultry flocks, known as biosecurity. But the industry executives and state officials said she was breaking a basic biosecurity rule: keep vehicles, which may have driven through manure on rural roads or other farms, as far from the hens as possible.

All of that prompted the F.D.A. to re-evaluate the training program, contributing to a delay in preparing the inspectors to enforce the new safety rule. The rule went into effect July 12, but inspections began only last week at farms not involved in the recall.

Egg inspectors failed to raise alarms; government sucks, market microbial food safety at retail

As the number of salmonella-in-eggs illnesses climbed to 1,519, the Wall Street Journal reported last night that U.S. Department of Agriculture experts found growing sanitary problems including bugs and overflowing trash earlier this year on the Iowa farm at the center of the national egg recall, but didn’t notify health authorities.

The problems laid out in USDA daily sanitation reports viewed by The Wall Street Journal underscore the regulatory gaps that may have contributed to delays in discovering salmonella contamination.

USDA was the only federal body with a regular presence at Wright, but it says it wasn’t responsible for safety. USDA graders were at a Wright egg-packing plant seven days a week to oversee designations such as "Grade A" on egg cartons.

The report validates concerns raised by Alison Young of USA Today last week.

Sen. Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said he had raised questions with Agriculture Secretary (and former Iowa governor – dp) Tom Vilsack about how his department forwards food-safety concerns, adding,

"In my oversight work, I’ve seen far too many federal agencies working in silos, failing to communicate with each other. … Just because food safety isn’t ‘my job’ doesn’t mean it should be ignored."

Would a single-food inspection agency or some federal legislation have empowered the egg graders or the FDAers to do more to limit the salmonella outbreak? Doubtful.

The comments echo those of Craig Wilson, head of food safety at Costco, who told Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register that Costco had auditors at Wright farms to evaluate animal-welfare condition, adding, "There are a lot of guys going, ‘Hey, wait a minute. They’re finding stuff and our guys were there and they didn’t see it.’ "

In an outbreak situation, especially one with over 1,500 confirmed illnesses, people pay attention to food safety basics. The challenge is to get everyone to pay attention in the absence of an outbreak – it’s that prevention thing.

Which goes to food safety culture and marketing at retail.

David LaCrone of KC Free Press and I chatted about this a couple of weeks ago while a bunch of my kids were with us on the Island. I sound particularly deranged. I blame teenagers.

Dave LaCrone: What do you think the point of the egg recall issue is? I’ve heard people decrying factory farming and mass distribution; some people say “I’m glad I eat organic eggs.” What is your perspective?

Douglas Powell: That has nothing to do with food safety and things that make people barf. Your backyard eggs are going to have salmonella just as much as your factory farm does. All I’ve seen is political and legal opportunism at this point. People take whatever they see and use it to fit their political lens, whether it’s “I want federal legislation passed,” or “I want organic food,” and there’s really not a whole lot of discussion of biology.

DL: In other words, these kinds of risks are inherent pretty much in any kind of egg all the time.

DP: Yeah, and they always have been. Since the recall, you have all these consumer warnings that say you should always eat fully cooked eggs. But you look at the egg people’s literature and they have loving pictures of hollandaise sauce and poached eggs that are barely cooked. They come out now and say “no we’ve always said that” and I’m like “bullshit, you did!”

DL: Is there anything we or the government can do?

DP: I have low expectations of government. I find it amusing that people want to give government more authority, the same people who screwed up Katrina, screwed up the oil well. Why is that a solution? I don’t get it.

DL: Well then, do you think corporate self-regulation is a solution?

DP: No, it’s not an either/or. My solution would be the buying power of individual consumers. What I would like to see is these egg companies or spinach producers, whoever … advertise their microbial food safety record right there on the package. I don’t care if it’s natural, if there’s a picture of a farm or if it was lovingly raised. I want to know if it’s gonna make me barf.

There are billions of meals served every year where people don’t get sick, so obviously they are doing something right. Why not market it? But they won’t because that would imply that other food is unsafe. Well guess what? Other food is unsafe. The best way the consumers can act is through their buying power. Right now they are doing it through the B.S. organic stuff. They are being held hostage by people who don’t make direct claims about food safety but hint at it. Why else do you think they buy natural or local?

DL: Well, I think there are a lot of reasons but I do think it’s a burgeoning thing with parents of young children, especially upper middle-class parents that think that it’s more healthy and safer to eat organic.

DP: Yeah, I have a 20-month-old, does that mean I’m a bad parent for shopping at a grocery store?

DL: I have to ask if your knowledge bleeds over into your choice of where you eat and what to eat? Are there foods you won’t buy or you won’t eat when you go out?

DP: Not much. I have five kids so I have been doing this for a while. I go to the biggest supermarkets I can find because they usually have the quality assurance programs that are demanding of their suppliers: “If you’re gonna sell food in my Wal-Mart you have to meet these microbial standards.” I know the head of food safety at Wal-Mart, they have a very good program. Does anyone who goes to Wal-Mart know that? No.

Walmart and Sam’s Club to require enhanced beef safety measures

An ermerging trend in several mainstream media stories of the past year is that some of the biggest food suppliers – Costco, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Burger King – have the best food safety requirements. Quality is a different issue and largely based on personal preference and lifestyle choices. Cool. But there are some microbiological basics that food safety types have to pay attention too.

Frank ‘food safety culture’ Yiannas, vp for food safety at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. said today the company will implement additional beef safety measures designed to further protect customers against foodborne illnesses.

The new process controls standards and goals are additions to a food safety program that already requires ground beef suppliers to test for E.coli O157:H7 and achieve prevention-based certification against one of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) internationally recognized standards.

Yiannas said,

“In light of recent beef recalls, we determined it was prudent to require an additional layer of protection for our customers.”

The new program requires Walmart and Sam’s Club beef suppliers to implement controls that would significantly reduce potential contamination levels and validate that the measures they’ve implemented are effective through specialized testing.

Suppliers who do not operate slaughter houses must be in compliance with the new standard by June 2011. For beef slaughterhouse suppliers, there is a two-step approach with the first step to be completed by June 2011 and the second by June 2012.

Walmart and Sam’s Club will work closely with beef suppliers to ensure that the new requirement is implemented without additional cost to customers.