Stop Foodborne Illness announced the new 2019–2020 Dave Theno Food Safety Fellow at the IAFP annual meeting last week. Jamie L. Ragos, a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee, takes the reins from Emily Forauer, the inaugural Theno fellow. Stop Foodborne Illness established the fellowship program in memory of food safety expert David Theno who died in a swimming accident in 2017. Theno’s dedication to keeping people safe extended back to the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak at Jack-in-the-Box in 1993.
The Theno Food Safety Fellowship is a full-time paying job at Stop Foodborne Illness and the fellow also completes a 12-credit online food safety certificate with Michigan State University. Along with housing and benefits, the position gives a young food safety scientist real-world experience with Stop Foodborne Illness’ greater community in learning about the detrimental effects of “failures in food safety”.
“Jaime’s credentials make her a stand-out in any crowd. Her impressive resume illustrates her commitment not only to studying food science but also to sharing that knowledge to create safer, healthier communities,” said Stop Foodborne Illness CEO Mitzi Baum in a press release. “We’re thrilled to have her on board.”
Ragos has worked in research programs at the University of Tennessee’s Department of Nutrition; the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications; the Department of Food Science and Technology; and the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology. In addition, she has participated on research teams at the Smith International Center in Guatemala and at North Carolina State University in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing, and Nutrition Sciences.
Last week Stop Foodborne Illness announced who would be filling the role of its retiring CEO Deirdre Schlunegger: Mitzi Baum. Previously managing director of food safety at Feeding America, Baum has extensive experience in the non-profit space as well as the realm of retail management. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Baum discusses where she sees Stop Foodborne Illness moving forward in its advocacy role and how the organization will work with both industry as well as consumers in the future.
“I am excited to assume the role of CEO at Stop Foodborne Illness. We are at a point in our evolution to identify new opportunities to expand awareness, create a strategy to pursue those new opportunities and implement and execute our plan,” says Baum. “You will be hearing a lot from Stop in the near future.”
Food Safety Tech: You bring a tremendous amount of experience to your new role at Stop Foodborne Illness. How will the organization work with industry to advocate for food safety moving forward?
Mitzi Baum: In my previous position, I had the opportunity to build relationships, network with food safety peers in food manufacturing and retail and work on food safety issues. I would like to use that experience to our advantage as we identify new ways to work cooperatively with industry to move toward a safer supply chain and expand foodborne illness education and awareness throughout the food system. Stop has also fostered many relationships over the years; now we would like to translate those relationships into partnerships to affect greater impact and reduce the incidence of foodborne illnesses.
FST: Where are the key areas in which Stop will be focusing in its continued effort to both promote awareness of foodborne illness as well as prevention?
Baum: Moving forward, we will build upon relationships to promote awareness of foodborne illness prevention. Currently, we have 10 industry partners working with Stop to identify new training techniques to increase awareness of the impact of foodborne illnesses. In the next few months, we will run pilots to test the techniques, gather data, make adjustments and reassess. After the pilot phase, we will work with an expanding number of companies to implement an appropriate model that will result in measurable improvements for internal foodborne illness awareness.
FST: Given your experience in food insecurity, where do you see the most progress in addressing sustainability? Where is there work do be done?
Baum: There has been a lot of progress regarding increased awareness of sustainability and reduction of wasted food. Sustainability is an essential part of the food industry and there has been little to no discussion about the topic until the past few years. Thankfully, it has become a badge of honor for companies to include sustainability into their organizational culture. With a pivot to focus on sustainability, topics such as utilization of natural resources, types of packaging materials and long-term environmental impact have become the focus for an industry that can be a model for other industries.
With regard to food waste, the new cooperative initiative between USDA, EPA and FDA can certainly help to accelerate impact. It is my hope that the regulatory agencies can work to modify regulations that prohibit the donation of safe, wholesome foods that end up in landfill rather than on the dinner table. The amount of wasted food in this country is shameful.
FST: As FDA steps into its “New Era of Smarter Food Safety”, will Stop Foodborne Illness be collaborating with the agency on any new/current initiatives?
Baum: Absolutely. We want to participate and represent our constituents in this important work. Stop’s expertise and consumer-focused perspective is essential to have at the table. As the FDA plan rolls out, Stop will be identify the appropriate opportunities to assert its influence and continue to advocate for sound food safety policy.
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.
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