Food Safety: Go With the Odds
by Joe Stout
Those who work with me know I enjoy discussing programs to manage sanitation and food safety to the highest level of certainty. An important component of any program is to collect and use data to measure effectiveness and add enhancements as needed.
I often engage in the topic to ensure data is used to enhance the program, not to dismantle or eliminate it. I often hear, “Here is the data. It’s conclusive. With the problem solved, we can now minimize the data collection and minimize the program.” However, I like to think of programs like insurance. They take care of an unsuspected pathogen infection or rodent infestation or even a surprise roof leak.
Think of it in terms of your personal life. I have never had a fire at my house, and no one in my family smokes, and my home is masonry with an asphalt shingle roof. With safe habits and construction, there have been no fires at my house, so should I drop my fire insurance?
Here is another one: For 15 years I have been auto accident-free and have never been pulled over. I also do not drive late at night, so should I take a chance and go without auto insurance for a few months?
Or how about this one? I will go without insurance on my iPhone because I’ve never had a problem with it. Oops, I just dropped it (for real). To replace it is more than I want to mention, and to cancel the line is more than $300. Never thought that would happen, but it did.
In many ways, programs we manage are insurance against the 10-year storm or the tsunami that has never affected this part of the world. So the question becomes this: “Can I use data from my plant alone to help judge the need for a program?”
Here is a good example: A few weeks ago, I recommended a more effective chemical (based on industry experience) to a specific facility for a defined situation. Also, it is more effective based on statistical data from a number of variables in a validated experimental design. The response: “This may be an issue elsewhere, but not in my plant. I don’t have any data indicating any similar issues, so why should I change anything?” Is this a valid argument since the plant has not experienced the 10-year sanitation storm?
I have visited many facilities that produce dairy, low-moisture foods and meat and discovered a cleaning tool that, when swabbed, was often found to be positive for a pathogen indicator. At another facility where similar tools were used, I mentioned the history and recommended replacing that specific tool to one with a more cleanable design. The response: “My data is good, and I have never seen the issue in my facility; why would I change?”
Programs are defined as routine tasks, procedures or processes implemented to manage the risk associated with our products, environment, cleaning systems and even our personal safety. A successful program controls our risk-based fears about quality and food safety. To ensure food safety and quality and comply with regulations, we should always go with the odds in favor and use the latest available technology and methods within programs to minimize risk.
Let’s consider it from a nonsanitation perspective. Baseball is often viewed as a game of numbers. Let’s say it’s 2-2, two outs, bottom of the ninth, Game 7 of the World Series and the bases loaded. With the pitcher scheduled to bat, the manager looks over his bench and narrows his choice to face the opposing team’s top lefty between two pinch hitters. Player ‘A’ is a longtime fan favorite but is batting .230 for the season and only .189 against left-handed pitching. Player ‘B’ is a recent acquisition batting .305 since joining the team and is a career .325 hitter with a .315 clip against left-handers. With the game and the season on the line, it’s time to make a decision.
Before we select a pinch-hitter, let’s return to sanitation. Do you want to use the chemical that is more effective and can provide a better removal of soils and biofilms? Would you eliminate the use of tools that have the opportunity to harbor pathogen indicators? Would you reduce the number of traps in your pest control program because you caught only one mouse in your facility in two years?
These are all questions that could arise during the golden millisecond of food safety (see my column in the April 2011 issue of Baking & Snack
or online at www.bakingbusiness.com
). Just like with baseball, to be successful you should go with the percentages. Player ‘B’ gets the call based on his averages, providing the best chance of getting a hit and winning a championship. Likewise in the food industry, we need to monitor programs to ensure success and use tools that work to help our companies and industry win with safe, quality food in a sanitary environment. So my advice is to always use data to monitor your success and enhance it, not to dismantle it.
Use the odds in your favor. Food safety is counting on you.