Thursday, October 14, 2010

Voluntary Food Safety Measures

Parsons at is concerned that third-party food safety auditors have the wrong incentives. They are paid by the companies they are investigating and so have every incentive to continue giving good reviews in order to continue getting their business. She points out two bad examples about the same auditor:
The Peanut Corporation of America hired third-party auditor AIB International last year. The auditor awarded the Texas plant with a "superior" rating — those peanuts then went on to sicken more than 600 people with salmonella poisoning. The same company also gave a "superior" rating to Wright County Egg, one of two egg producers fingered for America's most recent salmonella outbreak, which sickened more than 1,500 people and resulted in the recall of a half-billion eggs. I guess auditors missed all the maggots, mice, and manure (although to be fair, ABI says it was only hired to check Wright County Egg's packing and processing plants, not the production site itself).
Parsons' answer is to get the FDA to do the inspections and encourages people to write Sen. Coburn to urge him to stop blocking the measure that would give FDA that authority.
Powell at barfblog, however, favorably quotes WalMart's vice president of food safety on not just having processes but understanding that food safety is about individual behavioral choices that needs to be incorporated into the process. Changing the auditor by itself won't solve the underlying problems - at best it can catch problems sooner. After all, government inspectors were very well aware of problems at Wright County Egg but did nothing.

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 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.
And that culture won't be created by government mandate, but can only be done within each organization. In a related issue, Cargill took the initiative to install video camera to monitor employees to ensure animals were treated in a humane manner and UK regulators are beginning to follow suit.
“The early results with our animal welfare program have been terrific … In addition to the positive results on compliance rates, we have observed healthy competition among plants on performance scores, as well as a general theme of collaboration among plants on how to attack specific operational challenges. The ability to share data and video easily is extremely valuable.”

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