ST. LOUIS — The “wet” street slaughter of a pig in China, which occurs in the wee hours of the morning, is still expected to be warm when the customer arrives sometime before noon. Brazilians think allergens are a disease experienced only by North Americans. Fresh produce isn’t a concern in southern India because all fruits and vegetables are cooked before they are consumed. There are places that truly worry about expiration dates. China has problems with heavy metal and pesticide residues that are worse than people in the United States have ever experienced. IAFP 2016 kids with globeThese were but a few of the “cultural lenses” that a panel of international experts mentioned while discussing the “global food safety kaleidoscope” at the annual conference of the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP). The panel brought the context of reality to the discussion of one of the major goals of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which is making foreign-sourced and domestic food in the U.S. equally safe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration calls this its “parity” goal. To achieve it, FSMA provides for both foreign vender certification and third-party auditing. Panelists in the IAFP discussion Monday stopped short of saying “lots of luck with that,” but they did say third-party auditors and others must be realistic about cultural differences that need to be understood and accepted before anything as ambitious as FSMA parity can be achieved. Speakers included Andrew Clarke of SGS Canada, Natalie Dyenson of Walmart, David Bradfield of Golden Foods, Paul Vilches of Hershey’s, and Bobby Krishna from the Dubai Municipality. Together they have experience on every continent, with the only exception being Antartica. One assumption they cautioned against is the belief that standards of North America, Europe and Australia are always superior to those found elsewhere in the world. Dyenson, who is responsible for Walmart’s food safety outside of the U.S. and Puerto Rico, said the retailing giant has found that all of its units around the world see common food safety challenges such as pest control and proper cold storage. Consumer concerns do vary, though. Krishna said concerns about expired food products dominate consumer thinking in much of the world. His experience includes lengthy assignments in both India and the Middle East. Bradfield, with experience in Africa and China, said areas with a history of HIV/AIDS come with mothers who have newborn infants they will not breastfeed. “That has a big impact on the environment,” he said. It also puts a premium on formulas and sometimes means they cannot be exported. Food safety messages must be “strong and simple,” panelists said. In areas of the world where both clean water and electricity systems can fail, the possibility that things can go wrong has to be accepted and dealt with. Translation can also be a problem. Asking, “Is your plant manager a ‘hands-on’ person?” could leave a newly assigned auditor in a humorous to confusing situation. Newbies in international food safety aren’t going to make it if they carry cultural bias into their audits. Panelists said they should instead focus on science, risk management and networking to accomplish what they need to do. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)