More Inspections Won’t Stop Food Contamination

ASQ Quarterly Quality Report Finds Prevention is Key

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, June 19, 2007 – Eliminating outbreaks of foodborne illness is possible but it won’t happen by increasing inspections alone, say food safety experts in the latest Quarterly Quality Report from the American Society for Quality (ASQ), the world’s leading authority on quality improvement. The answer, the report finds, is in prevention.

“The problem is that we can’t inspect the defect out of the product,” says Steve Wilson, chief quality officer for the U.S. Commerce Department and ASQ board member. That’s because more than half of reported foodborne outbreaks cannot be attributed to any specific microorganism by current diagnostic methods, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). “Since we each can’t have our own food tasters – like the medieval nobles did – our best option is to take more proactive steps in earlier stages of food production,” notes Wilson. Other experts agree.

Key trends are pushing the industry toward a more preventative approach to food safety, according to John Surak, a food safety consultant and member of ASQ’s Food, Drug and Cosmetic Division who works with major food manufacturers around the U.S.

“Consolidation of food processing to fewer plants with increased output has guaranteed that if you’re going to have a glitch, it’s going to be a big one,” says Surak. “More health-conscious consumers demanding ready-to-eat fresh fruits and veggies year-round also increase pressure for the industry to look at new ways to grow, harvest and process safe produce.”

Preventative Measures Needed

What preventative steps can the industry take to reduce risks? Participating in good quality practices is one solution, according to Janet Raddatz, vice president of quality and food safety systems at Sargento Foods. Sargento uses good manufacturing practices (GMP) and HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point), a quality system that controls potential physical, chemical and microbial hazards in food production.

“We’ve voluntarily applied these systems because they make good sense, says Raddatz. “FDA isn’t requiring anyone to do it – we’re policing ourselves.”

ASQ’s quality report identifies other high-impact actions that experts say can make a major difference including:

  1. Reinforce Maintenance Procedures. Constant reinforcement of personnel training and hygiene practices, cleaning sanitation and maintenance, effective recall programs, provisions for safe water supply and product handling are all essential.
  2. Emphasize Consumer Education. Improper food handling at home and at retail food establishments accounts for more reported cases of foodborne illness than does failure at the processing level.
  3. Strengthen Regulatory Agencies in High Risk Areas. In today’s world where deliberate contamination of food is a very real threat, it’s important for our nation’s regulatory agencies to increase protections against this type of potential disaster as well as accidental contamination.
  4. Increased Diligence by Food Companies. The recent sickening of pets from toxic ingredients blended into pet foods was more a failure of corporate supplier quality programs than a failure of regulatory systems.
  5. More effective inspection – not more inspection. Inspection resources are limited and need to be targeted where they are needed most. Food producers and processors – domestic and foreign – that don’t comply with federal standards and those dealing with higher-risk food should receive closer evaluation.

Please visit www.asq.org/quality-report/reports/200706.html to view the complete Quality Report.

Source – ASQ

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