The labor union International Brotherhood of Teamsters has been holding nationwide protests at Chipotle locations this month, taking issue with one of the restaurant chain’s suppliers. The supplier at the focus of the demonstrations is California-based produce company Taylor Farms, which supplies tomatoes and peppers to Chipotle, according to Teamsters.
“Over the past five years, Taylor Farms has had more than 20 food recalls for problems such as Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli. In November 2015, Taylor Farms products containing celery and sold at Costco and other retail outlets were recalled for possible E. coli 0157:H7 contamination,” according to a Teamster news release. “At Taylor Farms’ plant in Tracy, Calif., the company has also committed safety and health violations and violations of laws that protect workers’ rights. Recently, the company settled extensive labor rights violations that involved payments of $267,000 to illegally terminated workers and a required posting in which the company promises to never again violate a long list of employee rights.”
The Teamsters protested at 12 Chipotle locations across the country, following 30 previous protests at Chipotle over the past several months.
Teamster Vice President Rome Aloise points the finger at Chipotle for allowing Taylor Farms to “have a total disregard for consumers’ and workers’ health and safety, as well as workers’ rights,” he said. “Chipotle claims to serve ‘Food With Integrity’, but where’s the integrity when it turns a blind eye to its supplier’s behavior? Chipotle must not cut and run – which would hurt Taylor Farms workers – it must carry out its social responsibility and demand Taylor Farms treat workers fairly and with respect.”
Taylor Farms has not released a statement addressing the protests.
Learn innovative ways to mitigate the threat of Listeria at the Listeria Detection & Control Workshop | May 31–June 1, 2016 | St. Paul, MN | LEARN MOREOn Friday the news broke that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) was investigating Dole Food Co. over the Listeria outbreak involving packaged salad. The deadly outbreak was linked to salad produced at Dole’s Springfield, Ohio facility. Although the DOJ has not yet commented on the criminal investigation, The Wall Street Journal reports that Dole reported positive Listeria samples at its facility as early as July 2014.
In January 2016, Dole voluntarily recalled all salad mixes produced at the Springfield plant, by which point 33 people in the United States and Canada had fallen ill with Listeria and four had died. The CDC reported on March 31 that the outbreak appeared to be over and Dole restarted production at the Springfield facility in April.
In a press release on the company’s website, Dole stated that the issues FDA reported at its Springfield facility have been corrected. “We have been working in collaboration with the FDA and other authorities to implement ongoing improved testing, sanitation and procedure enhancements, which have resulted in the recent reopening of our Springfield salad plant.” It also acknowledged that it had been contacted by the DOJ related to an investigation and will be cooperating with the department.
UPDATE 2/22/2016 – According to an updated FDA alert, the FY2017 budget requests include an increase of $25.3 million of new budget authority to implement FSMA, with FDA focusing on two main areas:
National Integrated Food Safety System ($11.3 million). Support state capacity to implement the produce safety rule via education and technical assistance to farmers and on‑going compliance support and oversight
New Import Safety Systems ($14.0 million). Implementing the FSVP rule, which makes importers responsible for ensuring that the foods they bring in from other countries are produced in a manner that is consistent with U.S. food safety standards
– END UPDATE –
FDA wants 8% more money for its FY 2017 budget, requesting a total of $5.1 billion. Part of this $14.6 million net increase in budget authority will go toward FSMA implementation. Specifically related to food safety, FDA is asking for more than $18.4 million in budget authority and more than $193.2 million in user fees. According to an FDA press release, the agency will be using the budget to support federal and state efforts related to enforcing safety standards on produce farms. In addition, FDA wants to use the money “to hold importers accountable for verifying that imported food meets U.S. safety standards, as well as conduct food safety audits of foreign food facilities”.
FDA is also requesting more than $3 million for building and facilities funding, and more than $600,000 to support other areas to improve the agency’s infrastructure. The fiscal request is for October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017.
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A renewed recognition of the importance of individual employee behavior within food processing and manufacturing organizations is shining a spotlight on awareness and accountability, but a standardized measure of food safety culture must be defined.
Read the Q&A with Randy Fields, “Senior Execs in for a Rude Awakening Regarding Supply Chain Compliance”Both accountability and liability will play a role in how food companies work with their suppliers moving forward. “The global food supply chain has really been based on trust for the last 70 years,” said Randy Fields, chairman and CEO of Park City Group and Repositrak. In a video interview with Food Safety Tech at the 2015 Food Safety Consortium, Fields explains how companies must go beyond simply “trusting” their suppliers to having a keen awareness of their suppliers’ activities from a compliance perspective.
In previous years, supplier compliance was oftentimes built on trust. With FSMA tightening the reigns on compliance via auditing and documentation requirements and unannounced inspections, a higher level of accountability is being placed on companies, from the employees on the manufacturing floor all the way up to the C-suite. However, when senior executives start digging into the level of compliance maintained by their suppliers, they might not like what they find. In fact, they might be downright shocked, according to Randy Fields, chairman and CEO of Park City Group. “Instead of maintaining control over these issues of compliance, by delegating it and not properly supervising it, they’ve [senior management] lost visibility,” Fields says. “They have to be more involved than in the past, because they’re on the hook for it. But, they’re going to discover that their supply chain is nowhere near as compliant as they imagined.” In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Fields discusses how FSMA is changing the game for executives in the food business.
Food Safety Tech: In the context of supply chain accountability, increased interaction is now essential between food safety managers and executives. What level of awareness is required in the C-suite?
Randy Fields: Given the change in the law (FSMA), the regulatory world, and increasingly, the world of tort, the unfortunate reality is that the C-suite in nowhere near as aware of the issues of accountability in the supply chain as they need to be. It breaks down into two pieces: First, they have entrusted supply chain compliance to other people in the business; it’s been dropped down too far within the organization without the proper oversight.
Second, they don’t have a good way of measuring compliance—it’s been based on trust. Compliance has become more complex and as a function of the complexity, [senior management] doesn’t have a good set of tools by which they can stay on top of compliance and measure it.
With the change in the law, accountability has legally moved up to the C-suite, because FSMA, for all intents and purposes, brings Sarbanes–Oxley to the FDA. Between FSMA and tort, the way that it’s been is about to change very dramatically, but the surprises are all downside surprises. The consequence of trust without verification is now likely to lead both to litigation and possible criminal conviction. This is a different world.
The basic level of compliance in the global supply chain is far worse than anyone ever imagined. It will be not unlike turning over stones in your backyard in terms of what’s going to crawl out.
“Personal liability is probably the ultimate determinate of whether or not the C-suite starts to pay attention.” –FieldsFST: Is there a larger responsibility on the part of food safety managers to translate the compliance message to the C-suite?
Fields: I think it’s now both the appropriate responsibility and potentially the legal responsibility of food safety managers to insist that their C-suite become aware and provide them both the oversight and the tools by which compliance can be continually and professionally supervised and managed. I think failure to do that represents negligence.
Tort claims are getting more frequent and larger for foodborne illness problems. And now with both civil and criminal penalties potentially being applied by the FDA, it’s a game changer. It cannot be business as usual. This changes the world for food safety managers, and it changes the world for their bosses. We live in a world now where, whether we like it or not, the concept of accountability is about to be more legally enforceable.
The Peanut Corporation of America sentences are exemplary. But strict liability means that there can be a criminal prosecution without intent or even conceptually gross negligence. It is only a matter of fact that you supervised the function that was involved.
There’s a set of issues here that food safety managers should be bringing to the attention of senior executives. It’s beholden on them to say to these guys, ‘you have to pay more attention to this because you’re legally, civilly and criminally on the hook.’
FST: Do these factors have an impact on the type of professionals that are needed within food businesses?
Fields: Yes. I suspect that what will happen over the long term is that food safety will not be as much [about] science as it is compliance. In many companies, the food safety people tend to be the scientists who may not be as interested in the whole compliance problem. Increasingly, it’s the whole problem of compliance, not just the problem of food science.
We typically see within a company that someone manages the insurance part of the supply chain; someone else manages the food safety part of the supply chain, and someone else manages some other part of it: All of that fits under the rubric of compliance. We’re seeing more and more companies beginning to address this holistically.
After much anticipation, FDA has finally published the FSMA final rules. If you’ve had time to dig into the details, you most likely noted the new initiative that requires companies to measure food safety culture. The industry is also seeing SQF, BRC and other GFSI audit schemes ramping up discussions around measuring food safety culture. However, FDA and GFSI audits aside, how do you create a culture for sustained compliance with this initiative? Follow these 10 tips to ensure your food safety culture is constant and in line with the new requirements
1: Create a solid foundation of programs, procedures and policies
Have a preset annual schedule for review and update of all programs, procedures and policies. Don’t let the schedule slide because there are competing priorities. A small pebble is all it takes to start ripple effect in the company, making it difficult to recover.
2: Set clear expectations, driven from the top down
Everyone should follow the rules and guidelines—from visitors to the CEO to the plant manager to the hourly employee. A “no exceptions” policy will drive a culture that is sustainable and drive a “this-is-just-how-we-do-things” mindset.
3: Use record keeping to ensure that food safety culture is well documented and data-driven
Collect the data that is measureable and non-subjective to help drive continuous improvement. If you collect it, you must do something with it. Good documentation is imperative to proving you did what you said you were going to do, especially in the event of an audit. Be stringent in training, and review all documentation before it hits the file cabinet to ensure it is accurate and appropriate.
4: Implement a robust continuous improvement process
Forward momentum through a continuous improvement process cannot be achieved unless management nurtures the program. If you are not continuously improving, you are falling behind.
5: Have a 360-degree approach to employee engagement with 24/7 awareness and communication
Top-down communication is critical to highlighting the priorities and needs of an organization and will not be effective unless an organized program is in place. Organizations that are not making the necessary pivots to communicate with the multiple generations within their workplace today will struggle to sustain change.
6: Foster an atmosphere of mutual respect
Treat people as you would like to be treated, turn the other cheek, etc. There may be lots of adages you quote, but which one best describes your facility and the relationships with management and peers on a daily basis?
7: Be sure employees have consumer awareness for the products they produce
Do your employees know who the end consumer is of the product that they are producing every day? Does your culture include a review of consumer complaints and customer complaints with your frontline workers? Listening in to a call center is a very powerful way to help employees understand what affects consumers and how their job is critical to avoiding a food safety or quality issue.
8: Create accountability across the board
Hold folks who do not support the culture in which you are striving to develop or maintain accountable, regardless of their position or stature.
9: Provide positive reinforcement. It’s the best motivator
Work to catch people doing things right and make a big fuss when you do. Positive reinforcement for a job well done is the most powerful motivator. It helps keep every team member on board with food safety commitments.
10: Celebrate often
We spend too much time at work not to celebrate all the good things that are accomplished. Whether it’s a cake and recognition for those that served in the armed forces on Veterans Day or a successful launch of a new product—celebrations are a great way to recognize and reinforce your employees’ hard work. Identifying and correcting mistakes should also be celebrated; they are fertile ground for making changes and provide great nutrients for continuous improvement.
FSMA isn’t about zero risk but rather minimizing the hazards, said Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the opening of the Food Safety Consortium conference yesterday. “We have hundreds of thousands of businesses that are subjected to something that they weren’t before,” said Taylor. “The reality is, we’re still going to have outbreaks this year and the next year.”
In his first public speech since three final FSMA rules (on produce safety, foreign supplier verification, and accredited third-party certification) were filed on the Federal Register last week, Taylor shared some of the highs of the formation of the regulation as well as the challenges that are to come with implementation. “Many of us who were involved in the process 20 years ago didn’t imagine we’d get here today,” he said.
Right now FDA is looking at the big picture challenge of preparing the agency and industry, and actually getting the work done. Taylor called the implementation challenge “enormous”, thanks to the significant scale of the food system, and said the import piece of the regulation will take the most hands on deck. The ultimate goal of FSMA is real-time prevention versus reaction, and the regulation will require a lot of change within FDA. According to Taylor, the agency is revamping its internal management processes, along with its training and orientation programs, which also includes food safety culture training. Other activities include restructuring the inspection and compliance approach by realigning its field force to have fully specialized teams of inspectors.
One of the challenges that industry sees is the mindset shift in investigators from a resolutions approach to a systematic approach in assessing systems. When asked how FDA will get investigators to this level, Taylor admitted he was a lot more worried about the issue than he is now. The district folks in the front line are enthusiastic about the new approach and feel empowered by FDA’s new mission, he said. And while he didn’t want to be a Pollyanna about the extent of the effort, FDA knows that the agency workforce will not be 100% aligned on day one of implementation and is managing the process with this awareness.
Voluntary compliance is key, and while the weight of ultimate accountability stands on the shoulders of food and beverage companies, success cannot happen without collaboration with FDA. “We are convinced we’ll get 90% of the job done by working with those who are committed to doing the right thing,” said Taylor. “When that fails, there are other ways to deal with that issue.”
If you watch the evening news or read the local newspaper, the chances are pretty good that you will read or see something about a food safety concern or incident.
While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, the Federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually—the equivalent of sickening 1 in 6 Americans each year, according to Foodsafety.gov. And each year these illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Five types of organisms—Salmonella, Toxoplasma, Listeria, norovirus, and Campylobacter—account for 88% of the deaths for which the cause is known.
We watched from the sidelines when major retailers faced public scrutiny over their practices on safeguarding consumer credit card information when their websites were hacked. Today, consumer and regulatory interest in food safety are the new focus areas for the news media, especially in light of the Blue Bell Creameries Listeria and the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) Salmonella outbreaks. Unlike consumer credit information, serious missteps in our industry can kill people, and in the case of PCA, can put you permanently out of business.
In 2008, peanut butter paste manufactured by PCA killed nine people and sickened 714 others, some critically, across 46 states and was one of the largest food recalls in American history, according to the CDC. Although still under appeal, PCA CEO Stewart Parnell was convicted and sentenced to a 28-year prison term for his role in knowingly shipping out salmonella-contaminated peanut butter. Parnell received one of the toughest punishments in U.S. history in a foodborne illness case.
In the Blue Bell case, a total of 10 people with Listeriosis related to this outbreak were reported from four states, with three deaths reported from Kansas, according to the CDC. Blue Bell pulled their products from store shelves on April 20, 2015. On May 7, the FDA released findings from inspections at the Blue Bell production facilities in Brenham, Texas, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and Sylacauga, Alabama. The FDA reports highlighted serious problems across multiple sites.
Both cases shine a spotlight on what can happen if you don’t have an effective food safety management system (FSMS). So what makes up a good FSMS, and is it enough to keep you out of trouble? An effective FSMS is built on three elements: Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) and a management system. Food safety issues are avoidable, and good processes and a strong culture within an organization make them more unlikely to occur.
Implementing a FSMS does not happen in a few months; it may take up to two years to establish one. No doubt, foundational activities need to be in place for factory operations. In addition to focusing on foundational elements such as making sure equipment is cleaned properly and procedures for allergens are implemented, the leadership team needs to make it clear that it is never acceptable under any circumstances to take shortcuts that could jeopardize food safety. This policy needs to be indoctrinated throughout the organization and thus does not happen overnight.
Underlying an effective FSMS are strong HACCP and GMPs, but food safety should always be the top priority for management and its employees, not share price, earnings or profit margin. Although financial performance is important, food safety must take precedence in the organization, and leadership at all levels needs to send that message loud and clear to all employees. In today’s environment, HACCP is pretty much mandatory from a regulatory standpoint and is an essential part of a FSMS. But the missing piece in many organizations is the support from the top—this is where culture becomes embedded in the organization.
The FSMS culture is the collective behavior from the organization around shared values and beliefs. The organization will follow the actions of leaders, not necessarily what they say—we all know actions speak louder than words. A good food safety culture is one where best practices are openly discussed, defined and rewarded. Food safety culture has become a buzz word and there needs to be a focus on making it come to life through a structured FSMS.
At this year’s Food Safety Consortium conference, Tim Ahn will discuss advancing food safety training and harmonization (November 19). LEARN MOREFood safety training is important not only for first line supervisors and operators, but also for senior managers and leadership, because they define the objectives and policies of the FSMS. What does it mean to conduct an effective management review? What does it mean to do an internal audit? What’s a good corrective action process? Training often misses the mark, because organizations fail to embed it correctly.
For FSMS to thrive, management must commit to the FSMS being a required way of doing things throughout the entire organization. A FSMS is most effective when it benchmarked against a proven standard and verified by an independent third party. Certification against a proven standard will reduce risk within your business.
Select your independent third-party verifier carefully. Do they have the resources and time, and do they know what they are doing? Do they add value to your organization? This is important since once you get certified, your journey starts and it doesn’t end. The value comes in two areas: Identifying risks and developing the appropriate control measures, and ensuring that the process drive continuous improvement in your organization. FSMS is focused on how continuous improvement applies to the management of risk and business operations.
The most effective way to establish an FSMS is to have leadership that recognizes its importance. The worst way is to have a recall or an incident, which draws attention to the fact that there is a problem and something needs to happen. In the case of Blue Bell, they probably understood the importance of food safety and thought they were taking the right actions. However, their management system led them to problems. FSMS must be independently verified against world-class standards to ensure effective performance.
Companies can develop blind spots where they cannot see their own bad practices, and they become institutionalized over time. Fortunately, experienced independent third-party assessors can shine a spotlight on those bad practices. That is the true value in bringing in outsiders to look at your operations and culture to uncover those blind spots.
At PCA, their poor culture and actions to the problem sealed their fate. In some ways, this criminal case presented a wake-up call to boardrooms across America and highlights how badly leadership mismanaged matters. This case came to light in the context of the public complaining to the regulators that they were not doing enough following several highly visible food poisoning cases. A FSMS would have prevented these problems because the structure would not allow such bad decisions to be made and would have been verified by an independent third party that would test and check everything. A reputable third-party verifier would not miss poor GMP/ HACCP processes.
A good assessor can help a company understand what is really important and what is not so important when it comes to findings (i.e., context). We don’t waste a client’s time with insignificant issues and that is where the experience and judgment of the auditor becomes critical. Last year I met with a client and said, “you need to be checking for Salmonella in your environment—how do you know it is not there?” I pushed them into checking because I understood the changing regulatory environment. I came back a year later, and they had confirmed that regulators were interested in their Salmonella monitoring program during a recent inspection. As an auditor, you have to be confident enough to provide advice and context to the client in a way that is understood and accepted, and that helps to build trust.
With FSMA, the government can now take specific actions against companies. If I am plant manager or CEO, how do I know for sure that I am in compliance with the requirements? How do I know that I don’t have any of these potential issues? The only way to know for sure is to have the FSMS assessed. Just like a bank or publicly traded company hires financial auditors to assure everything is done correctly, companies need to audit their FSMS to ensure compliance. Get a process audit and ensure they drill down deep into the organization—that is where we find issues and gaps. A thorough auditor will find your problems instead of looking the other way. It is important to call it the way you see it and not be too “soft” when getting an assessment.
If I am the CEO, I want to know where those problems exist. Independent third party assurance is the best way to find out how compliant you are with regulations. No CEO wants to deal with the inevitable lawsuits and lost business impacts. At least with an effective FSMS, you can show a level of due diligence when the regulators show up at your doorstep and the culture is such that you want to address any problems.
We have entered an important time for the food industry with FSMA implementation and other food safety regulatory requirements in the United States. These new rules place an emphasis on management accountability, risk assessment and control of supply chains. The bar for due diligence has been raised and it up to all us to show that we have done everything possible, and the best way is with an effective FSMS.
Since the introduction of FSMA, food safety has been under a much-needed magnifying glass. Standards for hygiene and accountability are increasing, and companies are implementing more measures to keep consumers safe. One of the ways in which businesses are being proactive is through implementing color-coding plans. If you have not heard of this type of plan yet, it’s time to get schooled; and if you have, this article will provide a quick refresher on why companies are expanding their spectrum on contamination prevention—by literally implementing the color spectrum in their plants and businesses.
What Is A Color-Coded Plan?
A strategy for a plant or business that designates certain colors for a specific area or purpose designed to promote safety and cleanliness.
Example Plans. Although color-coding plans vary by the needs and demands of each plant, the following are the most popular types of color-coding plans currently being practiced in food manufacturing.
Allergen/Potential Contaminant Distinction
Food Processors and manufactures usually have identified potential allergens and contaminants that pose a risk to the production process. Color distinction for equipment or instruments that come into contact with these potential contaminants is an ideal tool for food safety. Determining the amount of items that fall into this category within your facility is the first step to selecting the appropriate amount of colors to implement. The most basic color-coding plan for this purpose would be to select one color to represent tools that come into contact with a particular risk agent and one color to represent those tools that may be used elsewhere. If a plant has more than one risk agent, this plan may be expanded to include several colors. It is important to remember, however, that simplicity is key in color coding and that additional colors should be implemented strictly on an as-needed basis.
Many plants already have identified zones in place based on what is produced in each zone or simply due to operating a large plant. This presents an ideal opportunity to color code zones to keep tools in their proper place.
Certain plants that have a large number of employees working different shift times should also consider color coding. Color coding by shift can hold each shift responsible for proper tool use and storage. This approach also allows management to see where work habits may be falling short and where the cost of tool replacement is highest.
Assembly Process Distinction
Plants that have assembly line-like processes can implement color coding if necessary to differentiate tools that belong to each step. For example, this becomes particularly important in plants that deal with products such as meat; obviously you do not want to use the same tools with raw and processed meat. Color coding eliminates the question of whether or not a tool is meant for each step in the process.
Cleaning Purpose Distinction
For many food plants, cleaning and sanitizing are processes that are considered different in purpose and practice. Often, there is a specific list for cleaning and then a separate plan for sanitizing. Implementing a two color-coding plan can distinguish tools that are meant for each process.
Why You Need A Color-Coded Plan
It helps meet FSMA requirements. A major part of complying with FSMA regulations is having proper documentation to prove safety measures. Color-coding plans do exactly that, and most providers of these products can provide you with the necessary documentation.
It reduces pathogens and allergens contamination. For food producers, this is the most important reason to implement color coding. There is nothing worse for a company than experiencing product contamination or a recall; this is one step that may prevent such events from occurring.
It is easy to understand. Color coding works so well because it is so simple. All employees, even those who may not speak the same language or are unable to read posters and manuals that dictate proper procedures, can easily comprehend it.
It creates a culture that holds employees accountable. Managers enjoy color-coding practice because it is a simple measure that really works to hold employees accountable in the proper use of tools. It becomes much more obvious when a brightly colored tool is out of place, and thus workers are more likely to follow proper procedure.