Walmart expert: Food safety is a ‘shared responsibility’

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food safety Food

Today’s complex and interdependent food supply chain makes food safety a shared responsibility more than ever before, according to vice president of food safety at Walmart Frank Yiannas.

Speaking with FoodNavigator-USA ahead of the Global Food Safety Conference​ in Orlando next month, Yiannas, who is also chairing the conference, outlined some of the steps that Walmart has taken to address food safety with an increasingly global supply chain, and some of the major food safety issues facing industry as a whole.

Collaboration is critical, he says.

“Today, the way we get our food from farm to fork, the food system, has become increasingly complex and interdependent on many different stakeholder groups,”​ Yiannas said. “Moreover, food safety regulatory oversight in the United States remains a patchwork of federal, state, and local responsibility. More than at any other time in human history, food safety is a shared responsibility.”

Yiannas is due to discuss this idea of collaboration in a presentation at the upcoming conference, alongside experts from other parts of the food supply chain.

“It is difficult to overstate the difference in our food system today compared to just a century ago, when many of our food safety approaches were first being developed,”​ he said. “…Today's food system requires more interdependence on multiple stakeholder groups than ever before… Manufacturers alone can't do it. Retailers alone can't produce safe food. Neither can regulatory officials, nor consumers.”

What’s Walmart’s approach?

Yiannas gives the example of a new beef safety initiative launched by Walmart in 2010. The company met with beef suppliers, regulatory officials, academics and consumer groups to make sure its new safety requirements reflected a diverse set of expert opinions and views, he said.

The company adopted the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) model back in 2007, along with other global retailers.

“In 2007, as we looked at the changing world around us and the fact that the food supply was becoming more global, there was an increasing number of food safety incidents that were affecting consumer trust… Rather than requiring our own food standard, we would all recognize any of the GFSI benchmarked standards. Since that time, there has been growing acceptance of GFSI among manufacturers, retailers, foodservice, and regulatory bodies with literally tens of thousands certifications being issued around the world,”​ he said.

Yiannas added that the Food Safety Modernization Act’s emphasis on documented preventative control plans aligns well with the GFSI approach, as both require a thoroughly documented food safety management system.

The Global Food Safety Conference is due to be held in Orlando, Florida from February 15-17. More information about the conference is available online here​.

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1 comment

Sharing the 'Shared Responsibiltiy'

Posted by Paula Wedde,

Despite the fact that Walmart is now demanding more of their growers, Walmart itself has not mentioned how they have worked towards food safety. Yes, their growers are doing more and being held to higher standards, but what about the safety of our food once it leaves those farms? Where are the higher standards for the storage facilities and the stores themselves? What is being done inside the walls of Walmart to ensure better practices towards public health?

Fresh produce is still sold by piece and most times repacked in the store without documentation for traceback. A person can pick up a piece of fruit, decide they don’t want it, and put it back in the bin. This is a huge risk and wouldn’t happen on a farm. The harvesters wash and sanitize their hands before they pick. Depending on the commodity, some wear gloves. We aren’t going to wear gloves in the grocery store, but if food safety is going to be a ‘shared responsibility,’ stores need to not just require more of others but also hold themselves to higher standards.

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