Friday, January 8, 2021

Vilsack nomination bad news for meat industry

It is strange to be writing about politics on a food safety blog, but that is the world we are in right now.

With the announcement in December that Tom Vilsack would be President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Agriculture, many of us with first-hand knowledge of how he works were dismayed. Vilsack, as you likely know, served in the same role for eight years during Barack Obama’s two terms as President.

"USDA building" by brittreints is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Vilsack represents the “safe” choice in terms of party politics: Selecting either of the other two candidates for the position would have caused fighting within the Democratic party. So, President-elect Biden decided to avoid that conflict and nominated Vilsack, despite wide-ranging opposition to his selection from a variety of groups and individuals.

The grapevine talk says Vilsack was very good at raising money for the administration and will return to doing that again. Real-world history displays incidents few can forget: how he fired Shirley Sherrod; and a disdain for minorities, and small farmers and agriculture-related businesses that he was never able to hide. That disdain spilled over into FSIS rulemaking as well, with little to no consideration taken for the impacts on small and medium businesses.

The colossal disappearance of small plants during his last tenure set the industry up with a very weak fortress to use in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year. This time around, small processors should anticipate more of the same: a push for excessive regulation and oversight, which in turn will result in further erosion of their population.

Large processors will have a different experience with Vilsack in charge — if not an equally uncomfortable one. Processors “with money” should expect to see the FSIS undersecretary — with FSIS personnel in tow — knocking on their doors to solicit donations to the party at his behest. We can also expect him to negotiate settlements with the unions, who in turn make large donations to the party, and so forth. 

The key for everyone at this point is safety in numbers. I am recommending to all our clients that they become members of an applicable, national trade organization. It is going to be critical for everyone that our voices be heard. We R Food Safety! has been active in working with the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP) and will continue to support AAMP; additionally, I have directed our team to reach out and become more involved with other trade organization partners as well. The goal is to strengthen and enhance proactive dialog with those in Washington. 

We R Food Safety! is not a lobbying group, and I don’t intend for us ever to become one. Nevertheless, we are going to take a much more active approach in supporting those that are working directly in Washington as a result of this Cabinet nomination.

During Vilsack’s first stint as Secretary of Agriculture, we did see evidence that he dislikes negative press intensely, as he offered to rehire Sherrod after the public outcry. With that in mind, while we hope we don’t have only negativity to discuss through Vilsack’s tenure, my team of experts and I will continue to write and advise on food safety through a variety of publications and outlets, with the goal of making sure that what comes out of Washington supports the industry and the American consumer.

Andrew Lorenz, president, andrew@werfoodsafety.com

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

From the entire We R Food Safety! team to you and yours, have a relaxing, happy Christmas extended weekend! Here's hoping you're all finding time to wind down and enjoy the holiday despite the insanity that has been the past year. And here's hoping that you're not missing many, if any, of those you love this holiday.

Happy Holidays to you all!

Monday, December 21, 2020

Holiday demand, cooling deviations and the snowball effect

As families finish their Christmas shopping this week, one item on their list is likely something for their table. In previous years, before the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these families may have gone to their local supermarket to find the holiday ham, turkey, or roast that would become the center of their Christmas traditions. This year, with small businesses being among those hardest hit by the financial repercussions of the pandemic, consumers have given new life to the ‘shop local’ movement. 

"Christmas hams display - Woolworths QV" by avlxyz is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Rather than picking up their celebration’s main course at the nearest chain grocery store, consumers are choosing to support their neighborhood businesses. With demand in an upswing, many of our smaller clients are asking: How do we safely produce all this product before the holidays?

Following these tips will help processors avoid cooling deviations — and better deal with those that occur — during the high-volume period before the holidays. Consumer trends have changed — the pandemic has brought many shoppers to the local, small processor’s doors for the first time. Supplying them with a safe and delicious Christmas dinner could keep them coming back well after the pandemic is over.

One significant issue we see leading up to the holidays most years is an inability to keep product cold. While trying to fulfill the additional demand, businesses may feel pressured to overload their refrigerated storage areas. Unfortunately, cramming all that product in the coolers and freezers limits air flow in those spaces and raises the overall temperature. When this occurs, “Fully Cooked Not Shelf Stable” and “Heat Treated Not Fully Cooked Not Shelf Stable” product is unable to cool per the FSIS Appendix B Stabilization Guideline parameters, resulting in a cooling deviation.

Cooling deviations not only represent a potential food-safety hazard, they also typically snowball into further hardships for the processor. Deviated product likely will be placed on hold pending pathogen modeling, test results or other forms of analysis. This can last multiple days, during which the product cannot be further processed or sold. This slows inventory turnover rates and may force changes to the processing schedule, since cooler space is occupied by product that was originally intended to be sold/shipped. Once the snowball begins rolling down the hill, it becomes difficult for the processor to meet its processing goals.

Thankfully there are a few tricks that businesses can employ to keep their product cold and still take advantage of the uptick in holiday demand! First, as mentioned previously, load coolers and freezers only with the appropriate amount of product. Keep product well-spaced so that cold air can move throughout the refrigerated area easily. If refrigerated storage space is a limited resource within a facility, management may decide to utilize offsite refrigeration, such as refrigerated trucks or other close by processing facilities.

Second, anticipate that cooling deviations may increase during this season and take preventive measures to help to resolve deviations quickly. Whenever I am faced with analyzing a cooling deviation, I cross my fingers that there is an abundance of data. Automated temperature probes are a great way to collect large quantities of data, and I suggest that processors use them to monitor both the internal temperature of the product and the temperature of the refrigerated space. All this data helps processors be more confident that their decision to either test, recook, throw away, sell, etc., is the right one.

"Christmas Ham" by nforcr is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Finally, processors can mitigate losses by segregating deviated product from non-deviated product immediately. By separating these batches, the facility can continue to fabricate, package and sell product that is safe for human consumption, and keep only possibly unsafe product on hold. This keeps the processing schedule on track so that there is minimal time loss caused by the deviation.

— Molly Linden, Food Safety Consultant, molly@werfoodsafety.com

Friday, December 11, 2020

Out of chaos comes a commitment to safety, consistency

Although it seems to be happening at a snail’s pace for me, we are wrapping up what seems to be the longest year experienced for many of us. When the calendar pages get this low in number, many people begin to reflect on the happenings and what it means for the future. Along those lines, I have been able to reflect upon the takeaways from 2020.

"coronavirus-covid-19" by Nursing Schools Near Me is licensed under CC BY 2.0
"coronavirus-covid-19" by Nursing Schools
Near Me
 
is licensed under CC BY 2.0
As we have seen, along with the prevalence of COVID-19 comes chaos. Therefore, we (both myself and our clients) need to ensure we identify and keep strong and consistent our commitment to producing food that is both safe and of the highest quality.

The pandemic has brought long days and late nights for many processors, including our clients: trying to keep up with the increased demand of product; ensuring harvesting and processing schedules remain on time and fluid; keeping their eyes open with longer-than-normal work hours; ensuring the health of their employees and families remains a priority; among so many other important things.

All this increased client stress has trickled to our team at We R Food Safety: running deviation reports, bringing new clients on board more quickly than is typical, writing what seems to be an exponential amount of NR appeals, etc. We have also been busy behind the scenes to aid in ensuring safe meat products are able to be produced at our client facilities across the country.

This isn’t a negative reflection or a gripe about increased workload. In fact, in the end, I am incredibly grateful to be a part of such an outstanding team and to be able to help processors across the U.S. get through their roadblocks in these ultra-challenging times. I’m also very proud of our clients and our team here for navigating through these issues as we have. For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of working on this team is the capability to help reduce food waste in this country through pathogen modeling, sampling, regulatory knowledge, and identifying when a product or production date ultimately is related to a food safety hazard. Being able to state that our daily work contributes to fighting the food waste epidemic is extremely fulfilling.

Yet, the 2020 calendar year is near an end, and although we may be hopeful for what 2021 will bring, it is important that a commitment to produce a safe and high-quality product consistently remains the key focus. My team and I will be here to help that happen now and in the New Year!

·       -- Abbey Davidson, Food Safety Consultant, Abbey@wrfs.pro

Welcome to Food Safety Insights!

Hi all, and welcome to our new blog: Food Safety Insights by We R Food Safety!

In past years, we've tried to develop a blog and because of our phenomenal, and growing, client list and needs, it has fallen by the wayside. Now that we have brought on a communications professional, however, you can expect to see entries on a regular basis.

We R Food Safety is devoted to helping processors make the safest, highest-quality food possible, keeping consumers safe at the end of the day. We know that regulations and rules change frequently, and that there can be sticking points and hidden roadblocks in the world of food-safety regulation. The industry must abide by the rules and keep people safe, but sometimes the rules can be a bit unclear. It's our job to help you find clarity and direction when others cannot.

We will post a new blog entry every week, written by our staff of industry experts -- people who have been and still are in the industry, seeing and dealing with the challenges you face, understanding the role We R Food Safety can play in helping alleviate that stress and strain.

Enjoy the blog and let us know what you think!

-- Andy Hanacek, vice president of Communications, andyh@werfoodsafety.com