Karst chat: Bob Whitaker of PMA - The Packer

Karst chat: Bob Whitaker of PMA

03/04/2011 09:43:04 AM

So, it is amazing to see that shift take place. There is another end of the spectrum there too where you have some local guys who really been on top of this, who follow all the information and have worked with local ag extension or even with some of the people who buy from them to put the program in place and who are really coming to the workshop to see if they have everything they need to have. You really go from those who proclaim it to be not their problem to those who understand what their role and responsibility is and now they are really trying to be very conscientious about how they approach it. You really see that spectrum. And frankly, it is really kind of funny in a way because when I first started working in the food safety part of this business back in the late 1990s when I came out to Salinas to go to work for NewStar, we started working with growers here in the Salinas Valley and it is the same kind of audience.

The guys in Salinas might have been a little big bigger some than the guys I’m talking to now in Houston but it is the same thing: ‘Why do I have to do this? My father didn’t have to do this, why do I have to worry about it?’ As time went on and people began to understand what their roles and responsibilities were for food safety – and frankly, when some of them saw what the outcome could be if you didn’t have a food safety program that the markets went away from them. If you didn’t have a food safety program, then people weren’t going to buy from you. Then some of outbreaks we have seen have galvanized folks. So those who were trudging along building food safety programs were there, those who where lagging behind suddenly realized their opportunity to sell their crops and perhaps some of the outcomes that could happen if they didn’t have a food safety program were far more risky than just going out and putting together a food safety program.

Now, out here (in Salinas), it is part of doing business, it is part of what is expected of you as a supplier. But it is a change and it is hard for people to change and it takes time. So, when these programs I do for local growers and for marketers higher up in the supply chain, it is really about changing culture and changing the way you run your business. I don’t even talk about the science when I do these things. I spend very little time talking about the pathogens and how they are transpired and what might be a vehicle. It is not what they need to hear. They need to hear it is about how they run their businesses to make food safety part of their ongoing business culture.

3:09 p.m. Karst: You have been around different regions of the country as well. Do attitudes about food safety differ depending on what part of the country you are in?

3:10 p.m. Whitaker: I think it differs. You go up to a place where they might raise crops where they really haven’t had a history recently of foodborne illness outbreaks, you have to make your case a little stronger because they don’t really see how it is has touched them personally. So, if you get into a region where they grow tree fruit, they might take a little more convincing to be involved because they haven’t an outbreak necessarily associated with their crops. However, if you look at other kinds of things, such as chemical residues and things like that, then there is a little bit more of a recognition that yes, that could be a problem. Food safety is more than just bacteria.

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