Prince of Safety
Gale Prince has earned the title of Dean of Recalls. For more than 40 years in the food industry until he retired from The Kroger Co. as its director of corporate regulatory affairs, he managed several thousand of them. He is considered one of the industry’s top experts when it comes to food safety, regulatory requirements, food defense, quality control, safety of imports and product traceability.
That’s why several baking industry organizations — including the American Bakers Association (ABA), AIB International, American Society of Baking (ASB) and BEMA — asked Mr. Prince, president of Sage Food Safety Consultants, Cincinnati, OH, and his business partner, Jennifer Frankenberg, to review and update the Baking Industry Sanitation Standards Committee (BISSC) standards. BISSC is a not-for-profit corporation that, working with the ASB Z50 Committee, developed an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard for the design of bakery equipment. The standard provides guidance regarding proper design for sanitation and food safety for a variety of manufacturing equipment.
“I have seen the good and bad elements of food equipment design, construction and installation that foster food safety problems,” said Mr. Prince, a senior member of ABA’s Food Technical Regulatory Affairs Committee. “Many pieces of equipment generate repeated extensive cleaning costs, and some prove to be uncleanable without modification. I have seen these conditions lead to product contamination, illnesses and product recalls. I hope my experience will help me provide input for the parties to consider in their deliberations on the equipment standards.”
Recently, Baking & Snack
asked Mr. Prince to provide his latest insights about BISSC standards, food safety and the sanitary design of equipment. Baking & Snack: During the past few years, the focus on sanitary design for equipment sharpened noticeably. How has this affected overall food safety for the baking and snack industries? Gale Prince
: The BISSC standards have had an impact upon the sanitary design and installation of baking equipment over the years. Many of the design requirements in the standards came about through observations of users, equipment manufacturers and third-party auditors who identified deficiencies in cleanability and potential for product contamination. The bakery and snack food industry has enjoyed a long history of product safety, but times have changed with new science in food safety and epidemiology. During the last three years, there have been more than 400 recalls of bakery and snack products in the US. Many of these [incidents] resulted in people becoming ill due to microbiological contamination or undeclared allergens. The ability to thoroughly clean and sanitize bakery equipment can be very labor-intensive, especially if the equipment is not well-designed; therefore, the industry has taken it upon itself to review the standards and update them where necessary to further advance food protection. What changed that allowed BISSC to become less relevant over the years?
In 1949, in a post-war economy and with the birth of fast foods, baking industry leaders realized they needed to write voluntary bakery equipment design standards to serve their industry. [A group of industry associations] created a committee to write industry equipment standards. By the 1970s, there were 42 bakery equipment standards and a set of installation guidelines. Over time, small changes to these standards were made, but there was not a perceived need to adjust them significantly. With baking being the “kill step” in most baking processes, many industry players have felt little need to make changes in the design of equipment.
With current changes in food safety requirements and advances in food science, BISSC realized that something needed to be done to advance the standard, and in the early 2000s, it took the steps to get ANSI accreditation. Can voluntary efforts still be effective in the increasingly regulated environment of food processing?
Absolutely. Voluntary efforts by industry are the most effective and the quickest way to address food safety issues. Such efforts have been very effective in years past in the implementation of effective control measures. When an industry works through its trade associations, it can be very effective in drafting industry standards in a very timely fashion with input from regulatory agencies. Good examples of that include the voluntary food transportation guidelines that have served the food industry for about 30 years. What is needed now to make BISSC more relevant to the baking industry today in the US and globally?
What we need today is input from users and equipment manufacturers to add value to the BISSC standard in addressing current and projected food safety concerns throughout the world. Each year, we learn new things about food safety that require us to go back and take a look at the preventive control measures we have in place. Much is driven by changes in food safety regulations and by the Global Food Safety Initiative requirements. As one who has been involved in food safety for decades, how would you say the food industry has changed?
There have been dramatic changes in our food processing and distribution systems. There are fewer plants but larger production lots, and the food is distributed over a wider geographical area. The industry has moved from local producers to global suppliers of ingredients and products that go through a very complex food distribution system. In addition, as consumer tastes have changed over the years, there are more and more food ingredients from international sources that reflect the increasing diversity of our country’s population. When there is a problem in our food ingredient supply, especially with larger batch sizes, this problem will affect more people and will be more noticeable than in the past. Having said that, our food supply is safer today than at any time in history. But due to advances in science and epidemiology, it also is under more scrutiny. How is the industry better, and what issues still remain with food safety?
Processing and packaging technology has improved product shelf life and offered more convenience to the consumer. As the industry has grown and concentrated production over the years, this has allowed investment in enhanced technology and the ability to produce large batches for greater efficiencies in production to provide the US consumer the most economical food supply in the world. This also provides the opportunity for better control procedures throughout the operation in building a high-quality product and, at the same time, achieving [better] food safety practices. What did you learn from your years in the food industry, especially while working at Kroger, that shaped your approaches to sanitary design and food safety?
I had the privilege to work for a food company like no other in the world. This provided me the opportunity to work with all segments of the food industry in meeting the consumer’s expectations. It was such a joy to listen to consumers firsthand and hear their expectations. It was a pleasure to be a food safety coach within the Kroger team that fulfilled those consumer expectations and in setting a food safety culture throughout the company.
Kroger provided the opportunity to work in food manufacturing, food distribution and food retail. This included working with operations, procurement of products, equipment and supplies and with trade associations and the regulatory community on preventative food safety programs