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Audits & Analytics – Know for Sure

Emily Sohn’s column Peanut Butter’s Checkered Food Safety History chronicles the recent history and scope of bacterial contamination and recalls focusing on four food products – peanut butter, cantaloupe, ground beef and spinach.  Each food stuff has its particular problems be it the rough rind on cantaloupe or the multiple animal sources of ground beef plus their own favorite pathogen problems with Salmonella, E. coli or Listeria.

She rightly points to the large scale extended and complicated food supply chain as a major contributor to the outbreak problems we face in today’s food market. Our experience suggests that best first line defense is the current Food Safety Management System model contained in standards and regulations such as ISO 22000, the Food Safety Modernization Act and the Global Food Safety Initiative.

These depend on a well defined system bolstered by analytics and real-time role specific reporting for timely and well informed decision making. This is summarized by a three step program:

  • Know your production and quality systems
  • Know your supply chain
  • Know for sure – verify with audits and use analytics to get maximum results from audits.

In our direct experience we have observed that integrating HACCP programs and SPC improves food safety results and in the case of ground beef purchase by the National School Lunch Program results in supply chains that delivered ground beef that never tested positive for the pathogens monitored. We also believe the additional step of extracting actionable information from audits with analytics helps maximize the food safety outcome.

Will these strategies eliminate all possibility of food safety events? No. Will they give us the best chance of a good outcome? Yes.


EU ag ministers hold emergency E.coli summit

European agricultural ministers meet for summit on E.coli outbreak. Much like the previous US salsa outbreak, the claimed culprits have changed from Spanish cucumbers to German bean sprouts and none have proved positive. Demonstrates the difficulty of epidemiology with perishables. The EU food safety system is very good, but even the best food safety system can fail. Therefore, we need to plan for failure when the outlier is reached.

Where E. Coli Control Works

By now, we have all read the New York Times article “E. Coli Path Shows Flaws in Beef Inspection”
and the long string of resulting commentary. The article again raises the question of effective safety and quality management in the ground beef supply chain.

One program that has shown consistent success in controlling food safety has been the USDA AMS ground beef purchasing system for the National School Lunch Program. The program actively uses methods that have been developed over the years in industrial supply chain quality management notably vendor certification, process control and active auditing.

The result of this program is that since 2003, the first year using these methods, they have never delivered ground beef to the school kids that tested positive for E. Coli O157H7.

You can read about the program at: http://www.nwasoft.com/appnotes/usdagrbeef.htm
and see videos clips from the Feast or Famine” program which featured the NSLP food safety system at: http://www.nwasoft.com/appnotes/feastfamine.htm .

The system that the NSLP developed has one of the best records in the industry. The food industry should adapt the elements of this program into their food safety efforts.