It was easy to determine who to contact and the situation was corrected immediately and communication of the concern was shared with all involved. The likelihood for contamination was more certain than in most situations where a specific practice or potential for exposure to pathogens may be observed but one can only speculate as to whether a random illness or identifiable outbreak would ever result.
Even in this situation, it is most likely that other food safety controls would have had to fail or other handling practices or fresh processing would have to promote growth of any live pathogens. The fear is that no one down the supply chain would have a clue of this exposure if the people on site didn’t see a problem.
Would a documents audit or even on-site harvest-ops audit get positive marks for having packing material off the ground and equipment surfaces cleaned between fields? I have no doubt that full scores would be awarded. Would the auditor recognize the concern I felt existed in the absence of being at the site but not present during an actual exposure event?
I believe that most of the time the answer would be yes; however the long skepticism that has limited confidence within and outside the industry for the uniformity of skills applied to produce audits has not been diminished by a series of apparent deficiencies connected to several outbreaks and recalls.
I am not suggesting that the produce industry as a whole is riddled with failures in preventive food safety management; however, I have used the cartoon above in many GAPs workshops and industry trainings over the past several years to promote the need for honest self-appraisals.
Sometimes, it isn’t easy to look in the mirror and accurately assess the reflection. Self-awareness also doesn’t always work, especially if one isn’t trained to recognize the problem, which may be subtle or complex. Perhaps worse, it does no good to have someone entrusted to point out the flaws merely give you a sense of false perfection or false security by a poorly constructed judging system and limited or absent secondary review of reports.
The whole supply chain should be considering what actions each link should take to prevent a re-occurrence of recent events. I sincerely hope that at least these two broad actions among the supply side will emerge from the immediate aftermath of this tragedy.