ROCHESTER, N.Y. – When it comes to food safety, solutions are usually common-sense best practices.
Coral BeachA panel of experts discussed listeria and food safety during the first day of the fourth annual Center for Produce Safety Research Symposium at the Wegmans Conference Center, Rochester, N.Y., on June 25. From left, Tim York of Markon Cooperative; Bob Whitaker (standing) of PMA; Vic Smith of JV Farms; CPS executive director Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli (standing); Christian Schlect of the Northwest Horticultural Council; Kali Kniel of the University of Delaware; and Samir Assar of the FDA. That's the message from from numerous experts on food safety on the opening day of the fourth annual Center for Produce Safety Research Symposium. They also said without absolute commitment from top management, no company in the fresh produce supply chain can achieve adequate food safety measures.
About 300 people from all segments of the industry are attending the two-day symposium, said Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli, executive director of the Center for Produce Safety. In its six years of existence, the center has funded 70 research projects.
The projects are already helping improve food safety, according to presentations from numerous speakers during the first day of the symposium at the Wegmans Conference Center.
“The search for answers to food safety questions is not just the right thing to do, it is the best risk management tool we have,” said Brian Silbermann, president and chief executive officer for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del.
Silbermann introduced keynote speaker Seattle attorney Bill Marler, known for litigating food safety personal injury cases, beginning 20 years ago with ther Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak.
“He has done more than any one person to force industry and government and the rest of us to look at food safety,” Silbermann said.
Marler’s presentation included tips on how to avoid being sued as well as reasons to implement effective food safety programs.
Coral BeachSeattle food safety attorney Bill Marler (second from right) and PMA president Brian Silbermann (right) chat with attendees of the fourth annual Center for Produce Safety Symposium June 25.“There’s a business reason in addition to a moral reason,” Marler said.
“When you’re doing the right thing for your business, it’s right for your customers. When it’s right for your customers it’s good for your business.”
Another key point Marler repeated involved commitment from the top down.
“CEOs are a pivot point,” Marler said. “In questioning them under oath I’ve learned that food safety is the most important thing to them, but it is apparent that isn’t the case all of the time.”
Another speaker, Courtney Parker, made the same point about the attitudes and actions of top company officials. Parker is a microbiologist and vice president of food safety at Church Brothers and True Leaf Farms, Salinas, Calif.
During the past year Parker has worked closely with Gills Onions, Oxnard, Calif., after three recalls of fresh-cut onions because of listeria contamination. Company officials did the right thing when they closed two fresh-cut facilities and engaged on a seek-and-destroy mission, Parker said.