I was putting the finishing touches on this month’s blog post when word came of the tragic and untimely death of Dave Theno, a man whose legacy looms large in the world of food safety.
Just last week I was corresponding with Dave about an honor that STOP Foodborne Illness wanted to bestow upon him at our annual December event that honors our Food Safety Heroes. He had enthusiastically accepted and we were excited to start planning.
Stop Foodborne Illness has a history that is inextricably woven with many of the threads from which Dave’s life was made. In 1993, Dave was called in to help the fast food restaurant Jack in the Box manage the crisis that was the result of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, which eventually killed four children and sickened hundreds of others.
At a time when most everyone working in food hadn’t yet realized that food safety was not just another facet of their operation, Dave Theno stood in the gap and helped usher in what has become the modern age of food safety. As he helped industry get on the right track, he also dedicated his life to learning the stories and sharing the pain of families affected by foodborne illness, foremost among them being Roni Rudolph, whose daughter Lauren Beth was the first to die. Together with other hurting parents, Roni founded what would become Stop Foodborne Illness; and in the words of our good friend Mary Heersink, “transformed isolated losses into something bigger than individual tragedy.”
Dave loved his job and did it well. With compassionate integrity and the heart of an advocate, Dave’s strong leadership was proof that he understood the seriousness of the tasks before him. His clear vision for a safer world where food was concerned was a testament to his calling. If there is anything we can learn from Dave Theno’s life, it is that the story is about people. The bottom line is about people. Dave’s compass was considering all the other “Lauren Beths” in the world, and keeping people safe.
STOP Foodborne Illness receives many requests to speak at conferences, trainings and meetings. I recently spoke at the Harris County Food Safety Summit in Houston, along with David, one of our Texas volunteers. David became ill from Salmonella after eating at a hospital. The event’s audience consisted of health inspectors, and restaurant owners and managers. It was a great crowd.
At this year’s Food Safety Consortium, STOP Foodborne Illness is holding a fundraiser and honoring heroes in food safety. LEARN MOREAt the United Fresh meeting, I participated on a panel with Rylee, a STOP Nevada volunteer, who spoke about her experiences as a victim of a foodborne illness. Also include on the panel were folks from The California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement to talk about our collaborative training video project. STOP Board Member Jorge Hernandez, also the Chief Food Safety Officer for Wholesome International, moderated the discussion. The video was played (available on STOP’s website). I was asked what I thought about competitive marketing advantage as it relates to food safety. To be honest, I don’t really think about that: STOP Foodborne Illness has an obligation to do what we can to prevent illness and death that stems from foodborne illness. We know that sharing personal stories makes a difference in training.
Now that I’m back in the office, our team has three requests, one for speaking and two requests from media to talk about food safety. We hear a lot about food safety culture these days, but actually taking the steps to facilitate, implement and monitor that change can be more of a challenge. We are reading about so many new technologies and practices related to food safety, which is great, but they must be accompanied by a company’s knowledge and commitment in order to be successful.
We will continue to contribute to the conversation. We are most interested in prevention and in solutions and like you, want to make a difference. We want to have fewer and fewer conversations with devastated family members about their experience with foodborne illness. Thanks again for all you do to create a strong food safety culture. How is your organization instilling a strong culture? Let us know how we can help.
Listeriosis is serious. As defined by the CDC, the infection usually occurs as a result of consuming food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. It mainly affects the older population, pregnant women, newborns, and those who are immunocompromised.
Learn more about how you can address Listeria in your facility at Food Safety Tech’s Listeria Detection & Control Workshop | REGISTER NOWThe following are stories of those affected by Listeria. They are devastating, filled with sadness, and associated with tremendous loss.
Laureen and her husband Steve were expecting their first child. She was due on April 10, and on September 11, they heard their child’s heartbeat for the first time. On September 25, Laureen felt ill and on September 29 she went to the doctor’s office where she was diagnosed with a cold and sent home. A few days later, Laureen went to the emergency room with a fever of 102.6 degrees. After the hospital ran some tests, Laureen and Steve were again sent home. However, later that night Laureen began experiencing more symptoms, and she returned to the emergency room and was hospitalized. On October 5 she had a miscarriage and was told it was due to Listeriosis. They named their baby girl Zena Rose Spitz.
Lynn was six months pregnant and on Labor Day, she had flu symptoms. After feeling ill for a few days, she went to the doctor and was told to go to the emergency room right away. The faces of the doctors reflected grave concern. It was decided that they would perform a C-section that night. At 27 weeks, they were told the chances of survival were slim. Lynn’s survival was at risk as well. Their daughter was born with an Apgar score of 2. Her name was to be Julia Patricia. In NICU, Julia underwent many tests and procedures, and her parents were told that Julia was very sick. At one point a priest was called for last rites. Julie stabilized only after many close calls, and her parents were told that Listeria was the culprit. Today Julia has many physical challenges.
Michael was born to Stephanie and Michael at 30 weeks of pregnancy with an Apgar score of 2. Infectious disease reported that the cause of Stephanie and son Michael’s illness was Listeriosis. Sweet little Michael died in Stephanie’s arms as she rocked him to sleep, wrapped in a not-yet-finished baby blanket that her mom had been knitting for her first grandchild. Stephanie had eaten contaminated lettuce.
We honored Nancy Donley, former STOP spokesperson with the Legacy Tribute award. Since the death of her son Alex, in 1993, Nancy has selflessly advocated for stronger food safety policies and practices. Our other esteemed guest was Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for Walmart, a man known for passionately escalating the notion of a “food safety culture.” Frank received STOP’s Industry Advocate Hero award.
Another highly regarded guest, FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor, shared his reflections on the magnitude of the evening. Please take a moment to read Taylor’s eloquent and thoughtful words regarding this milestone celebration.
Are we winning the battle against foodborne diseases? How are we going to get better at this? How do you change employee behavior within food organizations to ultimately make food safer? Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, posed these questions to a captive audience last week at the Food Safety Consortium. “Human behavior can be contagious,” said Yiannas. “Food safety can be caught not only taught.”
While industry has increased its efforts in training, inspections, and microbiological testing, little progress has been made in lowering the rates of foodborne diseases over the past decade. As the global food system continues to change and grow at a rapid rate, a shift in the mindset of food safety managers—from process-focused to behavior-focused—needs to occur to facilitate a food safety culture that will in turn create a safer food supply, said Yiannas. He reviewed four tools that companies can use to implement a behavior-based food safety management system.
Consistency and commitment. “Humans don’t want to be wishy-washy,” said Yiannas. People strive to behave in a manner that is consistent with something that they’ve either said or documented publicly. Watch the video
Apply the tool: When conducting training, go beyond simply having employees sign an attendance roster. Instead, ask each employee to commit, in writing, that he or she will apply the principles learned in the class into daily responsibilities.
Homophily. “Birds of a feather influence food safety for better,” said Yiannas. People with similar characteristics believe and influence each other.
Apply the tool: When communicating an important message, use a front-line employee rather than a corporate “talking head”.
Make food safety the social norm. “People do what other people do,” said Yiannas. In today’s society, we are flooded with information, and as a result defer to social norms as a short cut when making decisions.
Apply the tool: When trying to enforce a behavior, show the behavior more than once and show it being done by more than one employee.
Learning from the right way or the wrong way. Learning by being taught the wrong way can be an effective teaching tool, because it allows employees to learn from their mistakes. Learning from the “wrong way” also prevents complacency, which perhaps is one of the biggest dangers to food safety. “Complacency is driven out of overconfidence, and oftentimes poor risk assessment, and certainly poor metrics,” said Yiannas.
Apply the tool: Create training modules that examine the missteps other food companies have made and illustrate how employees can learn from these mistakes.
Frank Yiannas also received the 2015 Industry Advocate Hero award from STOP Foodborne Illness during the consortiumThe question of metrics in food safety culture often arises, as there is no defined way to measure employee behavior. Yiannas encouraged the audience to conduct a food safety culture survey within their organizations and ask the scary questions. “You need to have the courage to hear the truth,” he said.
Many of you are committed to doing everything possible to prevent people from becoming ill or dying from foodborne illness, and you whole-heartedly embrace a strong food safety culture. On November 17, 2015, STOP Foodborne Illness is pleased to be hosting Food Safety Heroes, an interactive fundraising event sponsored by Chemstar Corp. and Food Safety Tech.
We are excited that Food Safety Heroes will take place during, and in conjunction with, the Food Safety Consortium Conference, which is a summit meeting for Food Safety and Quality Assurance (FSQA) industry experts and government officials. In our eyes, every guest coming to this event is a food safety hero! Each day these people contribute to the overall health of our nation, and we couldn’t be more proud to be working alongside such outstanding men and women. To be a part of efforts to increase public awareness and collaboratively seek solutions is a great honor for us.
In addition to raising much-needed funds for the important, life-saving work of STOP Foodborne Illness, we also have the great pleasure of honoring two individuals who have seen the national conversation about safe food grow from its infancy, born from tragedy, to an increasingly aware industry of food safety professionals and consumers. Their efforts have been instrumental in cultivating the food safety culture that we see today.
The 2015 Food Safety Heroes award will honor:
Nancy Donley, former spokesperson for Safe Tables Our Priority and STOP Foodborne Illness. Donley will be presented with the 2015 Legacy Tribute in recognition of her four-year-old son Alex, who died from an E. coli infection in 1993. From the time of her son’s death until her recent retirement from STOP, Donley has worked tirelessly to raise public awareness of foodborne illnesses by providing information and support for the millions of people who get sick from eating each year.
Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart Corp. A pioneering force in advancing the concept of a strong food safety culture, Yiannas is being celebrated as our 2015 Industry Advocate Hero. Going far beyond his role in overseeing the safety of the world’s largest food retailer, Yiannas is recognized for his commitment and dedication to building unique partnerships and participating in innovative approaches to food safety.
Please join us on November 17!
Food Safety Heroes
Time: 7–9 pm
Where: Renaissance Convention Center in Schaumburg, IL
Guests will enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, lively entertainment, a silent auction and more
The end of the summer is near. Children are back in school, holiday plans are on people’s minds, and National Food Safety Month is upon us, with an abundance of ideas for helping our families and friends stay safe. Even Global Handwashing Day is October 15. Who knew? There are many tips available for consumer awareness and multiple conferences for professionals in the food safety industry. Food Safety Month provides a reality check, reminding all of us that accountability lies with everyone, from the farm to the kitchen table. I am grateful that STOP Foodborne Illness has so many amazing volunteers who generously contribute their time and passion, sharing their experience with the food industry. Everyday companies tell us that adding stories at the beginning of a presentation makes an enormous difference for employees. Starting mandatory training with a personal account of foodborne illness grabs people’s attention—they sit up and take notice. It demonstrates that risks are real and that individuals do make a difference each time they follow safety guidelines and implement critical interventions.
Your diligence and commitment make a difference every day.
Recently at the IAFP conference in Portland, Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director, Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases at the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases commented (and I am paraphrasing) that there is a challenge in measuring one’s effectiveness when it comes to food safety; how do you know when you have prevented an illness?
We are immensely proud of our work and ability to provide volunteers and staff members to speak at company events or be part of an orientation or a food safety video. We are proud to work with The Kroger Company, Wegmans, Walmart , Kwik Trip, FDA, FSIS and others who see the value in bringing the personal story forward.
That is how we make a difference.
Guidance and regulations are critically important. And individuals working in companies who get it and understand the importance and consequences of doing the right thing—regardless of requirements—those who embrace a food safety culture, these are the people who ultimately make the biggest difference.
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.
In a meeting early this summer, I shared the story of a young girl who recently died from a foodborne illness and of the advocacy that her family has engaged in since that time. A person holding an important position in a food organization responded with assurance: “Well, we take a risk each time we walk outside.” This string of words has become a haunting refrain. The tearful words of the families with whom each of us at STOP Foodborne Illness have spoken resonate.
I wonder if the person who spoke communally understands why their position exists. Why do any of us have jobs in food safety? What happens in a food company when a senior employee subscribes to this philosophy? Maybe the belief is that it can’t happen to them? Does this organization need to experience it first-hand to understand it? Will a consumer die as result of this philosophy? Will the company suffer incredible financial losses? Will the cognitive dissonance finally dissipate? Will the company survive?
A comment like this is a reflection of a person and maybe of an organization that does not have a food safety culture. It’s a comment that is dismissive of food safety risks. When people eat food, they have a right to safe food. And companies have an obligation to manage risks—not simply be dismissive of them.
I know I am preaching to the choir to those of you reading this blog. You embrace, understand the importance of, and advocate for a food safety culture. You care deeply about your fellow human beings and about your company. But tell me, how would you respond to this comment? How do you broadcast the why behind food safety? How do you remember individuals who have been seriously ill, who live with long-term consequence, and who have died from foodborne illness? How do you help others understand that risks must be mitigated throughout the food chain?
Thanks for taking the time to think about these questions and how best to answer them. A true food safety culture understands that there are risks, and the organization adopts a mindset that most food safety risks and outbreaks can be PREVENTED.
Unfortunately, some people will only embrace food safety culture once they’ve had a catastrophic event.
Please join us at STOP Foodborne Illness as we work to help others to proactively adopt a food safety culture to prevent outbreaks—not as a response to outbreaks.
Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness
What is the Food Safety Culture Club and what does it mean? Long before it was trending, STOP Foodborne Illness was talking about and cultivating food safety culture. We intimately know and share the compelling reasons, along with the “Why” behind food safety. Statistics without stories are not compelling. By hearing the stories and seeing the faces of those who have been ill or who have lost loved ones, the reason for a food safety culture is remembered—and these memories may translate into everyday food safety practices. Everyone has a role in food safety but for some, the only role was to become ill. Think about cantaloupe, peanut butter, ice cream, pre-washed greens, candy apples and more.
Why should you care? We are all consumers; we all have children, parents, friends and loved ones who we do not want to become ill from a preventable illness. No one wants for individuals to contract a foodborne illness.
So here we are, on a journey towards creating strong food safety culture in the lives of business leaders, the food industry, employees handling food, and in our schools and homes. I recently attended several conferences that had themes and program titles related to “A Food Safety Culture”. We know it is critical for leaders to embrace the culture, model safe and best practices, and we know it is important to share the reasons why.
In this column, I will talk about summer food safety, back to school food safety, the importance of hand washing, and many other Food Safety Culture Club topics.
You are a significant contributor in keeping food safe; you make a difference.
STOP Foodborne Illness is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne illness by advocating for sound public policy, building public awareness, and assisting those impacted by foodborne illness. Contact STOP Foodborne Illness if you are interested in having one of the staff members or board members speak at your training.