About 15 years ago, a gentleman came up to me during the American Society of Baking’s annual conference and asked, “How come you guys never write about sanitation?” He emphatically told me about how important it was, and I reassured him we’ll consider it in the future.

And then the evil thought came: “You’ve got to be kidding me. Sanitation?”

Let’s fast forward to earlier this year when a different gentleman — our contributing editor Joe Stout — invited me to observe the Sanitation Essentials workshop held by the Food Sanitation Institute. It’s an initiative of Commercial Food Sanitation, a company Joe founded five years ago after retiring from Kraft Foods and is now owned by Intralox.

Initially skeptical, I came away impressed: Not only did the program offer classroom education but also hands-on learning with teams competing against one another to carry out dry and wet cleaning exercises.

Many of the two dozen attendees work at some of the largest baking companies in the world. Their self-confidence was apparent on the first day. By the third day, however, after several humbling experiences during those exercises, the attendees showed a collective passion and new appreciation for the complexities of food safety. They gave Joe and his team of trainers a standing ovation.

For Joe, sanitation is a highly personal calling that involves protecting families, companies and one another. He believes it’s often underestimated and unappreciated, and it’s been his cause to change the culture of the food industry before businesses have to take a “corrective action” and learn by their mistakes.

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence,” he told attendees. If Joe sounded like a coach, it’s because he was quoting one of the best: Vince Lombardi. “Sanitation is a team sport,” he added. “This is an industry effort. If you share what you learned here with 10 people, that’s great. If it’s only five, that’s great as well, but you need to share it.”

Want proof that sanitation is important not only to your customers and company but also to your career? Bad sanitation is a criminal offense. In September, a federal judge sentenced two executives from Peanut Corp. of America to decades in prison as the result of a salmonella outbreak in 2009 that may have made more than 700 sick and contributed to nine deaths. That incident — perhaps more than any other — demonstrated how devastating failing to follow proper sanitation procedures can be, even for top executives.

In 2016, Baking & Snack plans to make sanitation an even higher priority in our reports. We join Joe and his team on their mission to spread the word about sanitation — and ignite action — across the industry.

And I swear to you, I’m not kidding about that.