The importance of accountability at the employee level should not be underestimated. Food safety professionals recognize this, and gaining support from management is key. In this video interview from the 2015 IAFP conference, Laura Nelson, vice president of business development at Alchemy, shares her thoughts on how companies should not only train their employees but also track the effectiveness of that training.
This year’s Food Safety Consortium Conference (November 17-20, 2015 in Schaumburg, IL) features sessions on employee engagement and involvement in Food Safety Culture. Register now.
Next month Stewart Parnell, the former CEO of Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), is scheduled to be sentenced for his role in a deadly salmonella outbreak involving shipping contaminated peanut products nationwide. Parnell, who could spend the rest of his life in jail, was found guilty on 71 counts, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice and wire fraud. This landmark case sends a strong message about accountability to both industry and consumers, said Darin Detwiler, senior policy coordinator for food safety at STOP Foodborne Illness, at the IAFP 2015 conference in July.
“His actions resulted in technically more deaths than that of Charles Manson,” said Detwiler, who indicated that Parnell is still very much in denial over his role in the salmonella outbreak. “This might be one snapshot—one look at one person in one industry, in one business—but think about how many companies are out there [and] of this mindset—the idea that they’ll never get caught.”
Food companies should be held strictly liable when it comes to consumer safety, ensuring that they take preventive measures so that illness and death never happen. The sentencing of Parnell next month could set a precedent for how future cases involving companies responsible for foodborne illnesses and outbreaks are handled.
As FSMA promises to increase the responsibility of food laboratories, companies must pave a path forward by working more closely with industry as a whole, government and non-government organizations, as well as with each other. This was the clear message relayed by Pamela Wilger , assistant director of global food safety at Cargill, at IAFP 2015.
“We consider a lab any person generating data,” said Wilger, who emphasized the “lab” is not just the room itself. Lab testing should not focus on a single narrow view (i.e., one test); companies should be efficiently applying their resources, considering both science and risk. “Non-science based testing can lead to conflicts between suppliers and customers and manufacturers and regulators, and destruction of wholesome product.”
Here’s where improvement is needed in food labs:
Disseminating best practices. “We don’t even share that [as an industry],” said Wilger. “We don’t have time to replicate the same work.”
Aligning international rules
Cooperating with national regulators, including local/regional entities.
Testing and improving compliance policies
Building consumer trust and confidence
Training/competency development. Finding the right people, and encouraging employee knowledge sharing
Being prepared for the next intentional economic adulteration
Palmer Orlandi, Ph.D., CAPT, U.S. Public Health Service Sr. Science Advisor in the Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine at FDA, shared insights on how FSMA will affect lab responsibilities moving forward, with a focus on prevention versus reaction. The objective for lab capacity programs is to facilitate submission and acceptance of meaningful and actionable data to all regulatory agencies, he said.
Reset, expand and integrate: A need to focus on resources
Method performance and “fit for purpose”, harmonized standards
Large-scale focused surveillance activities; statistical significance, real-time evaluation of data generated
Real-time communications, bioinformatics, IT infrastructure, data-sharing platforms
Technology and innovation partnerships, including on an international basis
With the upcoming regulations right around the corner, the good news is that FDA is still on track to meet the FSMA deadlines for August (preventive controls for human and animal food). But as industry looks to the future of FSMA and its implementation, resources and funding will be a challenge. Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at FDA, continued this message (which he declared several months ago) at the 2015 IAFP conference in Portland, OR.
“We’ve been given a brand new mandate by Congress to do things we haven’t done before,” said Taylor, as he emphasized that FDA will be in a do-more-with-less resource-challenged state. FDA would need, over the five years following the enactment of FSMA, $580 million, said Taylor. Over the first five years, FDA has received about $162 million (through 2015). “2016 is the absolute crunch year for FSMA funding,” he said. President Obama’s budget request for FY2016 would provide $109.5 million.
The issue is that there simply isn’t enough funding to get it all done, or as Taylor put it, not enough money to “maintain momentum towards comprehensive implementation of the FSMA vision.” As a result of the funding limitations, Taylor said that FDA will be making “hard choices” and will be forced to prioritize the funding that it receives. He indicated that the agency will focus on preventive controls implementation first. But this leaves a potential for disruption due to the investments needed for implementing the produce safety rule and building a strong system for imports, which may pose the biggest challenge over the next decade, Taylor warned. While trying to remain positive, the deputy commissioner also maintained that he wanted to be transparent about the situation.
FSMA will give FDA the ability and technology to act in real-time when issues occur, but it will also require new skills and training, as well as a shift in culture. In November, Taylor will be the opening plenary speaker for the Food Safety Consortium Conference and will surely have more insights, as industry will be entering the implementation phase.