Improving food safety depends on culture change, speakers say

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Posted on Monday, April 27, 2009


SPRINGDALE - Instilling a culture of food safety and educating people - not merely training them - are the keys to improving the nation's food safety, according to two professionals who delivered their ideas to the Ozark Food Processors Association on April 8.

The Ozark Food Processors Association gathered for its 103rd Convention and Exposition.

Asserting that food safety equals behavior, Frank Yiannas, Walk-Mart Stores vice president for food safety, told the Ozark Food Processors Association: "If you want to improve food safety performance of your company, you have to change behavior."

Yiannas urged businesses to move away from traditional food safety management that simply trains employees in the specific technical steps for practicing food safety. He advocated a behavior-based food safety management that focuses on food science plus behavioral science.

He said that behavior science is "complex" and, "You're not going to train someone to change their behavior."

Yiannas defined a culture as a shared pattern of thoughts and behavior. Applied to food safety, that would include a culture of washing hands consistently, a practice encouraged through socialization processes.

A food safety culture is created through a series of strategic concepts, he said. The first is to maintain an expectation of food safety within the work place. Yiannas explained that at Wal-Mart, food safety is an expectation rather than simply a priority because priorities change over time.

Companies should have food safety communication plans to inform their employees what their work is about. "Your employers will know what you think is important by what you're talking about," Yiannas said.

Goals and measurements are often part of any plan, but Yiannas said it was important to realize that the measurement are not equal to behavior change. "You should be measuring to catch people doing things right and not just doing things wrong," he said.

He emphasized that employees must be educated and trained, but training is not the same as education. He noted that training tells only how to do a task but education explores what the task is about. Similarly, Doug Powell of Kansas State University told the Ozark Food Processors Association that marketing food safety should be based on educating people rather than looking for ways to compel them to practice food safety. Powell, an associate professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, explained how he gets the word out through Web sites such as his Barfblog. com.

He started the blog because "using stories and narratives is better than statistics alone." It frequently includes reports of food safety incidents as provocative as the blog's title.

The aim, Powell said, is to get people talking about food safety.

The day of his presentation at the Ozark Food Processors Association event, Powell posted on the blog this summary of his remarks to the convention:

"The third-party food safety audit scheme that processors and retailers insisted upon is no better than a financial Ponzi scheme. The vast number of facilities and suppliers means audits are required, but people have been replaced by paper. Audits, inspections, training and systems are no substitute for developing a strong food safety culture, farm-to-fork. Marketing food safety directly to consumers, rather than the local/natural/organic hucksterism, is a way to further reinforce the food safety culture."

Also speaking, after an opening welcome from Milo Shult, UA System Vice president for Agriculture, were Ozark Food Processors Association President Earl Wells, vice president for science and technology at Allens Inc., on the 200-year history of canning, and Jerry Johnson, Ball Corp., director of technical services of food and household products and one of the foremost authorities on canning, on the use of Bisphenol A as an internal coating for cans.

The Ozark Food Processors Association convention opened on April 7 with its annual golf tournament at Shadow Valley Country Club in Rogers; 68 golfers played in the event with proceeds benefiting the Ozark Food Processors Association scholarship fund. The day's activities included the third annual Food and Beverage Innovations Competition in which University of Arkansas students demonstrated research skills and interacted with industry. The students' products were on display at the evening's dinner and Ozark Food Processors Association scholarship winners - all UA food science students - were recognized. Scholarships sponsored by Ozark Food Processors Association and its members were awarded to 12 students.

The Ozark Food Processors Association Exposition this year attracted 79 exhibitors with more than 500 people attending.





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