Nov. 2, 2009

CONTACTS: Dr. Steven Ricke, director, Center for Food Safety
479-575-4678 /

‘Culture of Food Safety’ Is Essential, Walmart Executive Says

Frank Yiannas visits UA Center for Food Safety.

It’s up to the leadership in the food industry to create a culture of food safety as well as to keep up with the science, says Frank Yiannas, Walmart’s vice president of food safety.         

A food safety culture means maintaining “a continuous improvement model,” Yiannas said Oct. 26 during a talk at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Center for Food Safety. “HACCP is a step in the right direction, but it’s not the final destination.”       

The improvement model for a food safety culture sets high expectations for a company, Yiannas said. Employees are not simply “trained” in food safety – which tells them what to do – but they receive food safety “education” in which they learn why they are doing certain practices.

Reinforcement of appropriate food safety behavior in the industry is accomplished by emphasizing ways “to catch people doing things right” and telling them so instead of only waiting to catch doing something wrong. Yiannas explained that this model of food safety leadership is distinct from mere food safety management.

The stakes are greater today than in recent years. “Food safety awareness is higher than it’s ever been” Yiannas said. Meanwhile, public trust has declined in government, business and the perceived safety of the food supply.

Milestone outbreaks would happen only once a decade in earlier times; now such events might happen once a year. This has led to a race between the food safety community’s ability to prevent foodborne illness and its ability to detect foodborne pathogens. The beneficial aspect, Yiannas said, is that the pathogens that cause some outbreaks now are detectable but would not have been a decade ago.