NEW ORLEANS — This is not your grandfather’s fresh produce industry, and you shouldn’t expect to operate your business the same way he did if you want to stay in business, especially when it comes to food safety.
Bob Whitaker, often called “Dr. Bob” by industry peers, gave Fresh Summit attendees representing the spectrum of the supply chain that hard truth during his Oct. 18 workshop presentation, “Buyers and Sellers: Moving to a Food Safety Culture?”
“People say ‘My grandfather didn’t have to deal with this’ when they are talking about food safety issues. They are right, he didn’t,” Whitaker told more than 200 attendees at the workshop.
Whitaker is chief science and technology officer for the Produce Marketing Association and has 30 years of plant and food safety research experience.
Evolving bacteria and other pathogens along with improved testing technology have changed the equation, Whitaker said.
Further amplifying the importance of food safety programs is an increasingly savvy consumer base that searches for and expects to find answers about companies’ food safety programs on the Web.
“Eighty percent of consumers look at the Web for food safety news and information,” Whitaker said.
Developing, implementing and maintaining an effective food safety program is challenging, but not impossible, Whitaker said, with the organizational steps the same regardless of the size or type of business.
“Step one is to know you need to change,” Whitaker said.
Follow that awareness with preparations, planning and implementation, he said. Be sure to customize programs for specific commodities, climates and other characteristics of each business.
The absolute key to an ongoing successful food safety program is the same for everyone, though.
“Use your data and modify your program. If you developed your food safety program five years ago, you need to update it,” Whitaker said.
Panelists offered a range of perspectives from points along the supply chain.
Tim York, president of Markon Cooperative Inc., Salinas, Calif., said his company initially looked at food safety from a brand-protection and risk-management view.
“Then we looked at our core values, and that’s where you need to begin,” York said. “We believe people matter and that we should do the right thing. Brand protection turned into a moral obligation.”