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Food Safety Culture: A Must for Food Processors

By Guest Author

The outside world often wonders what really happens when massive recalls are made. They look at all the high-level requirements that processors have to adhere to in order to be approved as a supplier, but still can never understand how then with all the globally recognized certifications, recalls are still common. Perhaps this scenario can provide you with a learning moment for your food safety management system.

Introducing Processor X (it could be you) …The processor supplied the global market with avocado, which was later used in processing guacamole. As expected, compliance to customer standards was a given, third party audits had ticked all the boxes. The factory complied with HACCP requirements and had a robust microbiological sampling program in place. But as in the same in many food safety incidents, a simple PRP can trip you up. Hypothetically speaking of course.

Using forecasted volumes, massive quantities of avocado fruit were ordered that exceeded their holding capacity. Some of the fruit had to be stored outside cold rooms and quickly started to deteriorate. To try and save this stock, a decision was made to process this fruit, despite the spoilage. The final product was a 5kg pack of frozen diced avocado cubes. Routine microbiological sampling through an external accredited laboratory reported Listeria Monocytogenes was present in some of these packs. A decision was made to release the product when one sample came back negative for a given date code. Even with the knowledge that the same code had previously tested positive product was released and shipped.

When the customer found L. Mono in their product a massive recall was triggered. Some product was still in storage and some stock was en route to the overseas customer. The losses were massive, jobs were affected, business with the customer was suspended.

Indeed, most recalls like this one, are a surprise to the external stakeholders. But what about internally – all the warning signs were there, and the safety alarms would have gone off, should have gone off? Were these internal signs ignored at the subsequent costs?

Listeria Monocytogenes causes serious illness and in vulnerable groups can cause death. Management at factory level had the necessary qualifications to make the right call but were their calls overridden from the top in favour of commercial decisions ahead of science? We need to understand the hazards we are dealing with in our processes and the risks they represent. Micro-organisms do not behave like spreadsheets.

A strong food safety culture is the key to protecting you in this situation. Everyone in the company on the SAME food safety page. From the top down we understand what are the “non-negotiables” and what we need to do to. The start of a food safety culture – learn from the mistakes of others and don’t say it can’t happen to us.

This is based on a true story but the name of Processor X have been withheld to protect their brand