As part of our ongoing expert Q&A series, a conversation with

Mark Jarvis, CEO of Steritech Group, on the pending food safety legislation and picking safe food

at the grocery store

Mark Jarvis knows food safety from the bottom of the supply chain

to the top. As CEO of Steritech Group, a leader in food safety and

quality assurance consulting and auditing, Jarvis oversees around

100,000 food

safety inspections annually for many of the leading supermarkets,

restaurants, hotels,

contract caterers, and food manufacturers. Food Safety News recently sat down with Jarvis to discuss the realities of the food safety system.

Part III

Q: Do you see a big opportunity with the pending food safety bill?

A: I am generally not in favor of more government, I can tell you that. I don’t like the idea. However, I think overhauling the way government operates would be great.  In this case, to the extent that the legislation will force manufacturers to give their heads a shake and realize they have a commitment to consumers to produce safe food, I think that’s a good thing. It’s disappointing that you have to do that…but in the end, the industry will have to take the lead on ensuring that our food is safe.

Q: How do you pick safe food? Do you have certain rules?

A: I get asked this more than anything. The bottom line is we as consumers just don’t know.  I, like you, have to gamble every day when I buy food in supermarkets because you just don’t know. Our natural inclination, obviously, is to buy food from companies that we trust and respect, and I think there’s a lot of value in that.  Our goal is to help the big brands fulfill their due diligence commitments and build a reputation for being trustworthy. But there are companies out there that we know have a bad track record.

We as consumers should really be able to know the track record of the companies we buy food from.  To the extent that we can do that, I think it shapes our purchasing decisions.

Q: So if you walk into to a Safeway, for example, do you feel confident in the safety of the meat, would you purchase it?

A: No. Definitely not. The Food Safety and Inspection Service has major problems to contend with. The industry has its head in the sand and doesn’t want to face the ugly truth.

There are countless meat production facilities out there with a bunch of certificates hanging in the lobby showing superior ratings from third party auditing companies, all of whom sold them the cheapest, quickest, easiest, audit they could possibly offer. It is misleading, because what happens back in production is what we really need to know, and the audits conducted on these facilities can be very misleading.  These are the realities.

Q: I think consumers want to assume all food in the grocery store is safe…

A: As consumers, I don’t think its out of line to make assumptions that when you walk into a store or a restaurant that you’re going to survive the experience. I don’t think it’s unrealistic. And yet, the industry as a whole has not done nearly enough to be able to make this assurance. It is time for the industry to step up to the challenge, to really get to grips with the problem – a safer global food supply is well within our reach and America should be leading the way.

Part I of our discussion with Jarvis is here, on auditing challenges, food safety incentives, and best practices. Also see Part II here, on managing complex supply chains and food safety for small producers.