Karl Thorson
Karl Thorson,  food safety and sanitation manager for General Mills, outlines the company's global food safety initiatives.

MINNEAPOLIS — When it comes to food safety, it’s all about numbers and minimizing risk. It starts with zero — as in the “zero tolerance” that everyone strives for when it comes to sanitation — and ends with 100 — the penultimate percentage that every company seeks in the safe production of the food they sell.

Minneapolis-based General Mills produces and markets more than 100 consumer brands in more than 100 countries on six continents. However, securing that safety is a complex and often convoluted global initiative. It involves a dialogue with dozens of company-owned production operations and communication with hundreds of facilities when contract manufacturers of snacks and other finished goods are involved. And those numbers even reach four-digit territory when myriad suppliers — both large and small — fall into the fold and under the guidance of the company’s Sanitation Center of Excellence, said Karl Thorson, food safety and sanitation manager.

Food safety isn’t an issue that’s seen on a small scope by any means, Mr. Thorson said, and General Mills certainly doesn’t think of it in terms of only the plants it operates.

The company’s internal standards are only a “small piece of the puzzle,” said Mr. Thorson, who recognizes that in this industry, many bakers have relationships with the same suppliers, and food safety is an issue that goes far beyond U.S. borders.

With $18.6 billion in annual sales in 2015, General Mills spans the globe with $10.5 billion in U.S. retail sales, of which 20% are snacks sold under the Bugles, Chex, Fiber One, LaraBar and Nature Valley brands, among others. International sales top $5.1 billion with 41% from Europe followed by Canada (22%), Asia/Pacific (20%) and Latin America (17%). Meanwhile, convenience food and food service garnered $2 billion in sales while joint ventures brought in $1.1 billion, according to the company.