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Forum Summary Report

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Food Safety Event

We all know that no food is 100% safe and that preventing foodborne disease is a shared responsibility of everyone along the supply chain, but how does this translate on a day‐to‐day basis? In June 2012, over fifty policy makers and practitioners representing a range of disciplines, sectors and interests contributed to a productive dialogue on responsibility surrounding food safety. The following summary captures key concepts that emerged from the dialogue.

What are the most significant challenges with respect to ensuring food safety?

Arrow Making sure that all parties farm-to-fork share the responsibility for food safety;
Arrow Complexity of the problem – including distance between producers and consumers, lack of information base, ability to make free choices vs. regulation;
Arrow Complexity of the food web: different stakeholders, different ingredients, different sources of food;
Arrow Economic issues: decreasing funding, budget allocation problems for food inspection;
Arrow The rules that are imposed are interpreted by agencies and organizations in different manners;
Arrow Different expectations of what food safety really means;

What makes these challenges difficult to resolve?

Arrow Individualism in America’s culture and access to/consumption of lots of food;
Arrow We have lost the concept of ‘unsafe food’. We don’t see frequent sickness related to food consumption so when such illness occurs, we want to blame someone;
Arrow We lack a clear idea of who is responsible for financing the different responsibilities for making food safe;
Arrow A “No tolerance” mentality may result in inequitable treatment of processors: all levels of processors contribute to the food network, but there’s a feeling that small producers may not bear equal responsibility;
Arrow Cultural differences in all aspects of food preferences, preparation approaches, regulatory systems make unified approaches impractical.

Thinking about Paradox

Arrow Global vs. Local Arrow Potential for threat vs. real threat
Arrow Education vs. Regulation Arrow Cooperation vs. competition
Arrow Transparency vs. Confidentiality Arrow Zero tolerance vs. inability to prove a negative
Arrow Public good vs. Private good Arrow Information vs. inflammation
Arrow Personal choice vs. government restrictions Arrow Food safety vs. food security

Polarity mapping was used to tease apart the paradoxes. The entire group started by reaching consensus on:Food Safety small group

What we all most want:
Access for everyone to a sufficient supply of safe, nutritious, affordable and tasty food produced through sustainable systems

What we all most fear or seek to avoid:
Personal/family tragedy from food-borne illness, starvation, loss of choice, unaffordable food, lack of evidence-based policy, animal cruelty or death of the planet


Action-oriented objectives proposed by the group

Arrow Facilitate regular goal-oriented meetings between consumers, consumer advocates and regulators
Arrow Initiate a food safety Public Service campaign aimed at producers and consumers
Arrow Promote the development of many small, diversified farms to enhance resilience
Arrow Establish education programs for consumers
Arrow Reduce food waste

Finding Common Ground Forum Kick-Off SpeakersFood Safety Panel

Jeff Almer, Safe Tables Our Priorities:

“let’s focus on the common goal of safe food”

Jeff’s mother died of salmonella as a result of contaminated peanut butter. Trying to make sense of her death, Jeff started studying food safety. What he found were old laws and confusing regulations with some food companies inspected only once every 10 years. He got involved with the campaign to enact the Food Safety Modernization Action and was surprised at the politics involved. Sharing information and doing the right thing would go a long way to improving food safety.

Dana Allen-Tully, Gar-Lin Dairy:

“wholesome nutritious food starts with us!”

Dana is a 3rd generation dairy farmer. They take food safety seriously with a goal to produce high quality, safe food through environmentally sound farming creating an economically stable situation for the family and employees. Safe, quality milk starts with comfortable, healthy cows. Dairy farming is highly regulated by a number of government agencies plus the farm implements several checkpoints to assure safe milk. After all, it takes less than 2 days for the milk to go from our farm to your grocery store.

Attendee quoteJeff Varcoe, Schwan Food Company:

“Schwans has zero tolerance for foodborne illness”

Schwans is a large and complex food company receiving ingredients from around the world and producing a wide variety of food. Food is sacred at Schwans and they’ve adopted a spirit of continuous improvement because food safety is a moving target with food products, consumer preferences and behavior changing constantly. The company implements a number of different procedures to ensure food safety with the belief that industry has the primary responsibility for food safety.

Craig Hedberg, School of Public Health UMN (previously MN Department of Health)

“Government Agencies have police power but not God powers; they can’t monitor and inspect everything”

Government has three roles: to regulate the conditions necessary to produce safe food, to investigate outbreaks and to intervene promptly to prevent further illness. Government has a limited number of regulatory inspectors so they try to monitor control measures rather than inspect every piece of finished food. While investigations of outbreaks are reactive, they also can provide important information to transform processes in order to make food safer.


Finding Common Ground Forum evaluation results

Attendee quote

Nearly 75%of the evaluation respondents felt better able to address the complexities of ‘Ensuring Food Safety’ to help arrive at solutions. Over half of the respondents stated the course fostered new connections and/or established new relationships with others.