With all these magic bullets flying around, someone could get hurt.
Sports, politics and business all have them.
The free agent pool or great leadership will come to our rescue, the hope goes.
Sometimes it works out, but often we take one right between the eyes.
Nutrition has its magic bullets too. Vitamin C, beta carotene, lycopene and antioxidants all went ballistic at one time or another.
Not that I’m putting on full body armor for oranges, carrots, tomatoes or blueberries.
But I value a broader perspective on nutrition — and on anything, really.
So when Bob Whitaker focused a wide-angle lens on food safety in his session at the Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference in July, I paid attention.
Whitaker is PMA’s chief science and technology officer. Of the food safety myths he outlined in Monterey, Calif., several were variations on my theme. Hiring a food safety manager, passing legislation, audits, testing — any or all of these could be taken as magic bullets.
They’re better seen from a supply chain-wide viewpoint, he said. That’s true even if one such issue — testing — carries head-scratching implications that can tempt you to reach for magic bullets. But don’t just yet.
“Food safety testing,” he said. “You feel good, it sounds good, but is it real?”
Test samples of an unwashed, unprocessed commodity might yield 1% positive for salmonella on a consistent basis, Whitaker said.
But when you retest some of the remaining 99%, Alice can pass through the looking glass. More test positive on the second go-round.
“So what was negative, isn’t really negative,” Whitaker said.
“It’s just that when you start breaking down and start sampling at higher frequency rates, you’ll find it. If you look, you will find it. So testing may not be the panacea it might seem like.”
He called that a conundrum.
Quick, think back to the last few election cycles.
When was the last time you heard a candidate say “conundrum”? Did he or she win?
Well, candidates might not speak to their constituents that way. But it’s how Whitaker spoke to his — the foodservice buyers, distributors and grower-shippers gathered in Monterey. Like adults.
Whatever benefits testing yields for food safety are best viewed together with other consequences that may not have been intended, Whitaker said.
Those who test regularly, he said, learn things about their operations that offset cost. That’s typical of the broader perspective he pushes for.
“Food safety is a partnership between you folks who buy and the people who produce,” Whitaker said.
“You’ve got to be working on this all the time, and you can’t force it down.”
If the written food safety plans of some grower-shippers contain little more than product specifications from buyers, which seems to be the case, lack of collaboration will hurt both.
In California, the prime example of engagement is the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.
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