Food production safety has been in the news in recent months, and not for good reasons.
In June, the Food and Drug Administration opened an investigation into the third death of an infant potentially tied to the recall of formula from the Abbott Nutrition Factory in Sturgis, Michigan. The same month, Family Dollar ceased shipments from an Arkansas warehouse it’s closing due to a rodent infestation that affected food and nutrition products.
Family Dollar and Abbott Nutrition are two egregious examples of on-site safety issues — an investigation found the Abbott facility had standing water, a lack of thorough hand washing and the distribution of untested product, for example. But it doesn’t take widespread disregard of food and sanitation practices to make facilities vulnerable to contamination or infestation when safety checks and balances aren’t followed.
“Breakdowns of any kind can happen even when we have systems in place,” said Mandy Sedlak, senior manager of food safety and public health for the EcoSure division of Ecolab. Having practical standard operating procedures is important, but so is the “realization that they will not work simply because they are written on a piece of paper.”
The problem is rarely a rogue employee opting not to follow protocols, Sedlak said. Instead, systematic failures from management focused more on the bottom line than project and worker safety can lead to calamity.
“I can tell you unequivocally that every single food borne outbreak I’ve been involved in, there’s always been some warning sign before the outbreak happened,” said food safety lawyer Bill Marler. “Not to use a cliché, but if they’d a food safety culture such that they were paying attention to it, they would have solved the problem before it happened.”
A checklist is only good when it’s checked
Ideally, warehouses that handle food and beverages have dedicated safety and sanitation professionals dedicated to completing tasks on FDA checklists of tasks and procedures. But checklists are only good if they’re used, and filled out properly.