Food safety programs are the crazy uncles of corporate food production – everyone has one, but no one really wants to talk about it.

Corporate management on average is far more interested in sales and profits and would just as soon ignore those people who talk incessantly about a “culture of food safety,” or “food safety from farm to fork.” Management is most interested in getting food from the farm to your grocery cart in exchange for as much cash as possible and for as little corporate cost as necessary. Food safety is overhead, as are the audits that slow the chain of distribution from revealing bad food safety behavior. True, safe food becomes important when a foodborne illness outbreak happens and the corporate brand is put at risk.  However, on a day-to-day basis, food safety is, at best — and most often — simply ignored. That is why food – most produced here in the U.S. – sickens 48 million, hospitalizes 125,000 and kills 3,000 of us yearly. What if the corporate management of a food manufacturer or retailer was required to personally certify to the public that he or she had established “internal controls” over food safety, and in fact the food produced and sold was safe? What if an auditor was required to “issue an opinion” as to the accuracy of those controls over food safety, and that in fact the audit was truthful? Stunning ideas? Not really! There is a somewhat recent and apt model for increasing corporate and auditing responsibility that would work quite well to focus attention on good food safety behavior. Fact — good food safety behavior in the long-run protects consumers, which protects the corporate brand. Not poisoning your customers is actually good for business. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, known as the “Corporate and Auditing Accountability and Responsibility Act,” has set increased standards for all corporate management and auditing firms.  The bill was enacted in 2002 in reaction to corporate and auditing scandals in the 1990’s, which cost investors billions of dollars when share prices of public companies collapsed. As a result of Sarbanes-Oxley, top corporate management must now personally certify the accuracy of financial information. Management must certify that they are “responsible for establishing and maintaining internal controls” and “have designed such internal controls to ensure that material information relating to the company” is made known. Sarbanes-Oxley has also increased the responsibility of outside auditors who review the accuracy of corporate financial data. External auditors are now required to issue an opinion on whether management maintained effective internal control over financial reporting and that the financial statements are in fact accurate. How can the Sarbanes-Oxley Act relate to safer food? Can you imagine if the president of a food company was actually required to sign off yearly on the company’s food safety “internal controls?” If that were the case, perhaps food safety would have a direct line of communications to corporate leadership instead of lagging behind marketing and short-term profits. It would be truly revolutionary to have a food company focused on producing and selling safe food as its core mission. That would be a “culture of food safety.” And, what about audits? What if an auditor had to sign his or her name that the audit was in fact truthful and was not simply a mechanism to move product speedily, not necessarily safely, along the chain of distribution? An honest audit would be “food safety from farm to fork.” Does it not seem at least equally important that the food manufacturers or retailers ask our children to put in their bodies have some of the safeguards that investors have in the same corporation?

  • Jim Mann

    Poor hand hygiene is the most frequently cited contributing factor in outbreak studies. How can auditors audit handwashing or glove changes without standards, without measurement?

  • TP

    When a company releases an inferior product after all the documents are in, the speeches are made, the laws are passed it comes down to one thing “floor disconnect”

  • Oginikwe

    You are assuming that they (the corporations and the politicians) actually want to put some effort into stopping poisoning us.
    I don’t believe that is so. It’s more profitable to sell toxic food because by the time a recall comes around, it’s all sold.

  • Dario Dongo

    To a certain decree, business operators who wish to supply big retailers must be transparent on their food safety management procedures, to be certified (see GFSI works) or anyhow inspected. Wouldn’t be the implementation of an effective global standard – as FSSC 22000, based on the ISO 22000 family – a good basis for all? And for micro-enterprises, sound GMP’s to be checked from private and public inspectors?

  • Francis Foodsafe

    Outstanding, never pieced the two entities together. I whole-heartedly concur. Food Safety is too vital to put on the “post of the year” display, as a confidence builder.
    A foodborne illness can happen at anytime in the most unusual and unpredictable foods. “Microbiologists” can attest to this assertion. Food Safety Managers, at present, are used as GMP Scouts. Any FS methodology, that costs, is frowned upon and wisked out of the air like a pungent smell.
    Food Safety managing is my craft and my passion. I, again, concur with Bill Marler assertion.

  • Mark

    I actually agree with this concept. Many of the major claims in the past 10 years were dew to a lack of committment from the owners/operators. In most cases there not a corporate safety emphasis, only claims management and like you had mentioned, “show me the money.”