Food and packaging safety: You can’t be too prepared for disaster

Gary Kestenbaum in Food Safety on September 03, 2015

What more can you do to prepare for a food safety event with consequences more dire than even you expected? Adjust your food safety knowledge and processes starting with addressing team strategies, communication and ownership, trace and recall procedures, hazard types and resources.


The safety of your raw and packaging materials, finished goods and services is largely affected and controlled by the risks you anticipate and the processes you put in place to control or prevent them. Will your organization’s food packaging related safety programs, risk analyses and mitigation processes protect you from a public catastrophe?

What if that turns out to not be the case? Whether you sell equipment, raw materials, converted packaging, services or just about anything else that supports the food industry, the principles in this column apply to you.

Recent headlines in the United States have been dominated by reports of deaths from Legionella bacterium in the Bronx and wildfires in the West. Most of us following these catastrophes ask ourselves how these events can get so out of control, when, in large part, they are known and situationally anticipated.  This is not the first time that Legionnaire’s Disease generated by airborne microorganisms found in or near air handling and conditioning equipment has impacted humans.  As well, wind-driven wildfires feeding on bone-dry vegetation are an annual occurrence. The connection to food safety and lessons learned is that even when serious, life-threatening risks are  known, anticipated and mitigated, critical aspects of same are not always understood and controllable before life and property are lost.

These two events which are having such a widespread effect act as realistic comparators to food and materials safety tragedies. As with food supply chain processes, there is ample literature available to property owners and HVAC technicians alike documenting how HVAC and related systems represent excellent host environments for  microorganisms to grow and disperse, potentially affecting anyone who inhales them.  There are also no shortage of documents describing and predicting the locations and circumstances under which wildfires can and will occur and spread.

Despite all of the warnings, research, modeling, communication and other related best-practices, the sources of the Legionella outbreak in New York City were reported at times to have been unknown.

Despite technicians and local and state health department professionals working around the clock to locate, identify and sanitize in order to correct the conditions, residents were in fear of the extent to which the condition was spreading.

Similarly, this year’s wildfire events appear to be at alarming proportions, out of control not only in California, but also in Washington State, Colorado and Utah. Again, despite all of the known science, warnings, preparation, communications and procedures, lives and property have been lost, with professionals desperate to contain the impact.

Businesses supporting the U.S. food, processing and packaging supply chain assumedly by now know that their products and processes are at risk of being affected and possibly contaminated by microbiological, chemical and physical risks to humans.  Their quality and safety stakeholders are well aware of best practices. Certified and qualified branded schemes and programs have been written and adapted for processers, manufacturers, packagers, storage and transporters and other functional specialties and yet events occur despite all of these well intentions.

I suggest that in the wake of the aforementioned catastrophes, consider that despite all the steps you and your organization have already taken, a food safety event may still occur and your response may or may not be adequate to limit the scope and harm of the event.

What more can you do to prepare for a food safety event with consequences more dire than even you expected? Adjust your food safety knowledge and processes.  Flawed or underdeveloped processes increase the potential for high magnitude, in-market events.


Actionable advice to follow…


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