HONOLULU -- The need to maintain a safe food supply is a challenge that must be shared by industry, the government and the consumer, Mike Wright, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Supervalu, Minneapolis, said here last week.
ociation of Food Chains.
In terms of working with the government, a case in point, he said, is the issue of retail testing of ground beef -- a policy favored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture but opposed by the industry.
Wright said the government must refocus its food-safety efforts to prevent food-borne illnesses rather than testing products at the retail level, which he said only gives consumers a false sense of security.
"Testing is not a strategy for eliminating E. coli from our ground-beef supply," he said. "When testing is used at all, it must be applied at a point where contaminated product can be removed from the distribution system before it reaches consumers.
"But with retail testing, the test results for products taken from retail stores are not available until long after the ground beef has been purchased and eaten by most consumers. A positive test at that point triggers a product recall, which serves only to frighten consumers and erode their confidence in the safety of the food supply, while little, if any, contaminated product is ever recovered."
Wright, who is currently chairman of Food Marketing Institute, urged retailers and wholesalers to take advantage of FMI's resources in the food-safety arena, which include the availability of experts in food science, regulation, recalls and crisis management. "If individual members have a problem, they need to contact FMI first and (take advantage of) a support service FMI offers free, on a confidential basis," Wright said.
In terms of working with the ultimate consumer, Wright pointed to "Fight BAC," a public education campaign aimed at eliminating bacteria in food preparation at home that was developed by the Partnership for Food Safety Education, a coalition of more than 50 industry, government and consumer groups.
"Fight BAC has had a successful launch," he said, "but we need the help of the entire industry to sustain this campaign. It's going to take much more than two years to compel consumers to break their bad food-safety habits, and the newest FMI surveys show that many consumers still have much to learn."
Wright said FMI is undertaking numerous efforts to help the industry improve its food-safety controls, including science-based models for products most vulnerable to contamination, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Poing models for all perishable products and special food-safety programs to help the industry in other countries, including a model plan of excellence for raspberry growers in Guatemala.
Wright also spoke about the importance of alliances among trade associations, pointing to last month's second joint Public Affairs Assembly sponsored by FMI, Food Distributors International and the National Grocers Association.
"This joint meeting made a powerful impression on members of Congress because of who was meeting with the legislators. It was not association staff in Washington but constituents of those Congress members, the people who vote them in or out of office."
Wright called on WAFC members to participate in next year's meeting, "because government has such tremendous influence over our businesses."