Lessons from the Food Safety Summit: The Importance of Culture, Accountability and Teamwork

Last week, try I attended the 10th Annual North American Summit on Food Safety.  It was a two-day conference that brought together government and industry to talk about the latest goings-on in the world of food safety.

In a word, prescription it was great.

The conference started with a presentation from the CFIA on the status of the Safe Food for Canadians Act and the likely future inspection regime it will implement. 

As I set out here, this web the government is currently considering the comments it received on its draft modernized inspection proposal and is preparing a new draft for consultation.  According to Colleen Barnes (Executive Director, Regulatory and Trade Policy at CFIA), we can expect the new proposal in May 2014, with a new target of mid-2015 for the implementation of SFCA regulations (note, these timelines have shifted slightly from previous status reports).

With that backdrop in place, the industry panels on a number of food-safety-related topics began.

Two common themes resonated through most of these presentations:  first, the importance of establishing a company-wide culture of food safety, and second, the importance of accountability.  We heard these messages consistently in connection with the entire supply chain, from suppliers, manufacturers and transportation companies through to retailers.

One of my favourite panels was the case study of the Cronut Burger presented by Jim Chan, who ran the investigation for Toronto Public Health. 

It highlighted the importance of these concepts throughout the entire supply chain.  In this case, the supplier of one of the burger’s ingredients (the “maple bacon jam”) wasn’t processing, transporting or storing it in the right way, resulting in over 200 complaints from unsuspecting burger-eaters.  Dr. Chan described the impact of the burger in sickening detail… I’ll spare you those details here.

The message from the maple bacon jam incident:  everyone who contributes to a final product must understand the importance of food safety and be accountable.  Companies with a true culture of food safety are educated and have the appropriate systems and programs in place.  With this culture in place, they are also accountable to their supply chain and consumers.  

And here comes the teamwork piece:  everyone who contributes to a final food product is part of that product’s team; we are only as strong as our weakest link.

This message of teamwork resonated consistently throughout all of the panel discussions.  We talked about the importance of teamwork in the supply and distribution chain, within individual companies and among industry, government and consumers.

I got the sense that industry and government are excited about the changes to come in Canada’s inspection regime.  There was a general buzz about the place and a lot of positive chatter about improving current systems and strengthening the already strong Canadian food industry.

Rah! Rah! Rah! Gooooo Team!

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