Greg Pallaske has been the Director of Regulatory Compliance at US foods for 5 years. In this role, Greg works to ensure that USF meets or exceeds all federal and state regulations regarding food safety, food defense, and bio-security, including recalls. Greg acts as a liaison to the FDA, USDA, DHS, CDC, and other federal and state agencies, as well as to industry and trade associations and organizations such as the national conference for food protection (CFP). He has also been extensively involved in the USF Corporate Sustainability and Wellness program, and is currently co-chair of a CFP Recall Evaluation Committee. Previously, Greg was Chief of the Food Safety Program for the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services, where he oversaw the licensing and regulation of over 33,000 facilities. Greg is a Registered Environmental Health Specialist and has a Master’s Degree in Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development from the University of Wisconsin. Olivia Marler interviewed Greg about his history with food safety and his thoughts on current food safety issues as part of her “Food for Thought” series. How did you get into food safety? Sort of by accident. After 15 years of managing restaurants I went to school and got my degree. Based on my experience and new-found knowledge I was hired by the city of Madison, WI to be a health inspector. Once I got into it I found I really enjoyed being involved in helping to protect everyone by keeping our food supply safer. Interestingly, during my 15 years as a restaurant manager I only encountered a health inspector a few times, and those experiences were not pleasant. They weren’t especially helpful either, so I determined that as an inspector I would focus on education, using enforcement only to get someone’s attention. What is the most immediate change that could be made to improve food safety by industry? And by the government? By the Government: start throwing people in jail for intentionally cheating on food safety. Also, government really needs to learn from industry. Most inspectors (USDA, FDA, state and local) have never operated or worked in a food production environment. In my opinion, you can’t increase food safety in a process you know nothing about. For industry, try this: one of these items does not belong with the others. Can you guess which? -Get your hair cut -Go out to eat -Get your nails done -Get your teeth cleaned -Hire a real estate agent -Teach a grade school class If you guessed “go out to eat,” you are right. For everything else on the list, the service provider must be educated and certified. But anyone can open a restaurant or even a food processing facility with no education or experience. Pretty scary, huh? Antibiotic resistance arising from antibiotics in feed is a hot topic in food safety circles.  What, if anything, do you think should be done to regulate animal antibiotics? Should it be industry or government regulated? The problem is not the use of antibiotics; it is the injudicious use of antibiotics. If [antibiotics in animals] were outlawed, meat would triple in cost and our diets would be much different. It is easy to say the government should enforce, but how? Public health is dramatically underfunded and underappreciated in America, and there are no resources available. Therefore the responsibility falls by default to industry. Big suppliers/processors have to set standards (or use FDA guidelines) for the judicious use of antibiotics. Any grower found to violate those standards should not be allowed to sell their cattle (or hens or pigs). What do you think of the argument that smaller is safer, and that local, sustainable farms should be subject to different regulations than large, industrial farms? The argument is garbage. Small operations generally (not always) lack the expertise, infrastructure, and resources to do food safety properly. They are “safer” because they may make only one or two unrelated people sick, where a big processor may infect dozens, causing an outbreak. I occasionally did dairy farm inspections in Wisconsin in the past. The bigger the operation (in general), the better the animals were cared for, the more modern the equipment, and the more likely someone in charge knew about keeping products safe. It was the smaller farms that caused me to stop drinking milk (even pasteurized) years ago. Do you generally avoid eating specific foods because of the risk associated with eating them? If so, which foods? As a former health inspector, it would have been easy to become phobic, and I chose to live life on the edge. I even eat Chinese food in spite of almost never finding a clean and well-run Chinese restaurant. I risk it because the nice thing about food fresh out of the wok is it is very hot and all the bugs are probably dead. The only thing I won’t do is eat at a Chinese buffet, because they make 15-gallon batches of stuff that never gets properly cooled or reheated.

  • Nothing like obvious support for big agribusiness interests.
    His comment on the small operation is off, to be blunt. And he doesn’t differentiate by type of product, so he’s condemning small organic tomato growers in with small raw milk dairy producers. Different needs, different challenges, and the danger inherent with one doesn’t exist with the other.
    It was a toss away answer. Cheap. Company line crap.
    And his response on antibiotics is nicely adhering to the company line, but is BS. I don’t need a Master’s degree to know that using antibiotics as a way to artificially stimulate growth, or to compensate for crammed unhealthy livestock conditions is unacceptable — at any level! Any!
    (There, see? Made me use an exclamation point. That’s how ludicrous the answer was.)
    Just because the government doesn’t have the guts to set standards, and big agribusiness interests doesn’t give a darn about negative effects. doesn’t mean we have to tamely accept the company line.
    The only agreement I have is with the following:
    “By the Government: start throwing people in jail for intentionally cheating on food safety.”
    Other than that … piffle. PR release.

  • Nathan

    “By the Government: start throwing people in jail for intentionally cheating on food safety.”
    OK, lets prosecute Stewart Parnell the President & CEO of Peanut Corp. of America. He seems like the easiest target of all, considering the malfeasance he perpetrated. Yet, 5 years later he is still a free man, no charges whatsoever… What gives?

  • husna aijaz

    I found the interview very informative from Mr Pallaske’s viewpoint. Adequate training and certification should be mandated by law for food production/food processing professionals.

  • Farmer with a Dell

    It is refreshing to hear someone courageously tell it like it is about sustainability and food safety relative to farm size.
    Mr. Pallaske bravely exposes the fallacy of the modern cult mantra: “smaller is better”. He recognizes how that disingenuous argument is always spun to demean the character of “larger” producers, whom he accurately recognizes to be the better and more safely managed in general. Our intrepid “small producer” evangelists would have us believe large producers universally are evil, ill-intended, sloppy and dangerous — all complete and utter nonsense.
    Professional producers are, by design and out of practical necessity among the most conscientious and competent of operators. Look closely and you will notice hobby farm cultists engage almost exclusively in negative campaigning to sell their kooky elitist ideology — that’s all they have going for them…and it sucks. They cannot sell on their own merits.
    By relentlessly smearing successful large producers these ridiculous small farm ideologues aim to tarnish the competition, casting their own mediocre amateur product in a desirable light by comparison. Have they no idea how silly and pathetic they appear; ineffectually dawbing about in the dung and weeds, posing defiantly with angry faces to the wind in their weekend straw hats, the legs of their overalls wet with blowback from their incessant scaremongering propaganda? Malicious smearing, leering fools.