The Issue on Everyone’s Mind: Food Safety

Salad-making should not be a scary process. It is the responsibility of leaders in the food industry to ensure consumers are confident in the safety of the food they cook with. Because of the media attention related to the recent peanut and egg recalls, customers are aware of the risks and are asking what is being done to prevent these recalls in the future. What is being done to ensure that food is safe before it reaches consumers kitchens?

Leaders need to demand accountability, regulation, certification, and inspection from their vendors, customers, and their own company. Cook Associates Inc, in a report on the state of the Food & Beverage Industry in 2010, stress the need by all business in the supply chain to increase food safety requirements and demand the same of their vendors:

“Highly publicized food safety cases have catastrophic implications for businesses, and thus key retailers and food service establishments are becoming increasingly insistent on safe food and beverage products. They are requiring their suppliers – the food and beverage processors – to follow, and be able to verify, increasingly strict food safety, sustainability, and traceability requirements.

Likewise, the processors are requiring the same standards from their ingredient suppliers. A real opportunity exists for companies that are strong in food safety to gain a true competitive advantage. Food safety will not be sacrificed by top customers and this will be a trend that will take on even greater importance in the future.”

There is one organization that sees the need for a controller and they are stepping up to the plate. The International Food Protection Training Institute (IFPTI) has been established with a vision to “Protect the public’s health through an integrated national food protection system that assures the safety of the U.S. food supply.” They offer training across the country for people in all areas of the food industry on meeting the standards of US food safety. They are working with the Association of Food and Drug Officials, US Food and Drug Administration, and the National Center for Food Protection to ensure widespread knowledge and understanding of food safety standards and encouraging people of all areas in the food supply chain to demand attention be paid to this issue.

Paragon Leadership associate Rebecca Krause recently had an opportunity to sit down with Jerry Wojtala, Executive Director of IFPTI to discuss how IFPTI’s work will affect food inspectors, regulators, manufacturers and the general public

Rebecca: We have heard a lot about impending legislation that will impact FDA’s authority and food manufacturing in general.  What is the status of this legislation and what are the anticipated changes which will result if this legislation is passed?

Jerry: The specific legislation is known as House bill HR.2749, and Senate bill S.510.  HR.2749 has already passed in the house, and S.510 will be called for a vote in the senate after the Nov. 2nd elections.  The changes that this bill will require will be sweeping.  The FDA will have authority that it has never had before in the way of issuing product or ingredient recall, issuing fines, detaining food and ingredients, and requiring food manufacturers to pay registration fees.

With regard to changes to the food industry in general, we can expect all food companies to be required to have a hazard food plan in place and available for inspection (ex: HAACP), food traceability requirements for all raw and manufactured food,  food performance standards will be used during inspections, and on-farm regulations will be established.

Rebecca: What will IFPTI’s role be to support the food industry when this legislation is passed?

Jerry: This legislation, above all else, calls for an integrated approach to the food safety system on a national and global level.  In order to meet the training needs that will be needed IFPTI has been working to develop and plan an infrastructure to:

1) Develop a training network to provide technical, management, and leadership training to regulatory and public health officials.

2) Serve as the hub for the administration of the training network.

3) Develop and deliver standards-based training programs not currently offered.

4) Build an instructor cadre to ensure the availability of highly trained instructors within regulatory and public health agencies across all jurisdictions.

There is a tremendous capacity for quality regulation with FDA regulators, state inspectors and food manufacturers’ internal quality assurance staff.  Unfortunately, this capacity is currently a patchwork at best. Through this regulation and an integrated training approach the nation’s resources will be more efficiently and fully utilized; working together to enforce consistent standards to assure that our food is safe.

Rebecca: As you mentioned before, this legislation is going to result in sweeping changes, impacting all areas of the food industry, truly a ‘farm to fork’ blanket.  You have outlined a very comprehensive plan for providing a number of training initiatives and solutions.  Who will be able to participate in these training opportunities?

Jerry: Our training is focused on the state and federal government officials.  However, any professional within the food system can participate in a training opportunity.  For example, last year we provided training to 1000 individuals, approximately 20% were from the food industry (non-government) sector.

Rebecca: There is no doubt that the impact of this food safety legislation is going to have a huge impact to the food industry and the general consumer.  What do you see as your immediate training mandate and then the subsequent mandates?

Jerry: Without a doubt our immediate need would be to assure that we have identified the standards and have developed the curriculum and content for the entry level and ‘journey level’ food professionals.

As we look to the future the benefits of an integrated approach to food safety will require a whole new set of skills from our leaders.  For an integrated food safety system to be effective, the leaders will need to look at our system from a broad, holistic perspective.  The current silos will need to be broken down and leaders will need the tools to see how everyone fits into the system.  The development and delivery of these tools as part of the IFPTI curriculum will be a critical component to not only achieving an integrated system, but its sustainability and global growth.


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