Accountability-Central Alert for October 24, 2011 - A Homegrown Crisis – Listeria in the US Food Supply

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Accountability-Central Alert for October 24, 2011 - A Homegrown Crisis – Listeria in the US Food Supply

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011 - 4:25pm

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AC Alert for October 24, 2011
A Homegrown Crisis – Listeria in the US Food Supply

Over the past decade, we’ve seen more than our share of operational mistakes, product recalls and food safety warnings. Many of them have created urgent crisis conditions for companies, both here in the USA and around the world. We like to think that the inspections and safeguards built into our domestic operation and production cycles reduce the probability of such events happening again. However, that is not always the case, as we have been vividly reminded by the recent, deadly outbreak of Listeria in the United States:

A nationwide listeria outbreak has to date killed 25 people who ate tainted cantaloupe – and was probably caused by unsanitary conditions in the packing shed of the Colorado farm where the melons were grown according to government reports.

Government investigators said that workers had tramped through pools of water where listeria was likely to grow, tracking the deadly bacteria around the shed, which was operated by Jensen Farms in Granada, Colorado. The pathogen was reported to be found by inspectors on a conveyor belt for carrying cantaloupes, a melon drying area and a floor drain, among other places.

The outbreak, which began in late July, is the deadliest caused by foodborne disease since 1985. A total of 123 people in 26 states have fallen ill, including those who died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to news reports, the farm had passed a food safety audit by an outside contractor just days before the outbreak began. Eric Jensen, a member of the family that runs the farm, was quoted in The New York Times saying that the auditor had given the packing plant a score of 96 points out of 100.

FDA officials did not criticize the auditor directly. But Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA, said the agency intended to establish standards for how auditors should be trained and how audits should be conducted.

The food industry increasingly has come to rely on third-party audits of farms or processing plants to ensure the safety of food. The outside auditors are hired by the companies being inspected, and their procedures are largely unregulated. In several recent food safety lapses, the facilities involved had were reported to have passed recent third-party audits. This outbreak is likely to focus new attention on the use of auditors in the food industry. Typically farms or processors are required by their customers, like supermarket or restaurant chains, to have an auditor evaluate their food safety procedures.

Herbert H. Stevens Jr., 84, of Littleton, Colorado became ill with a high fever on August 24, a few weeks after eating a cantaloupe bought at a local grocery store. Mr. Stevens' daughter, Jeni A. Exley, said: “We should be able to trust the U.S. food supply, but I don’t think you can right now.” (Source: The New York Times)

Such is life in the fast lane of enterprise risk management. From the high-stakes / high-visibility crises events that are now part of corporate legend such as the ExxonValdez tanker oil spill in Alaskan waters just as the fishing season got underway, to the deliberate poisoning of over-the-counter Tylenol pain relief pills: there were major consequences that followed each crisis. Lessons learned?

  • In our experience leaders have learned that a crisis can:

  • occur quite suddenly, sometimes with no warning;

  • invite outside scrutiny (media, government);

  • generate nasty headlines with lasting effects;

  • damage enterprise and individual reputations;

  • directly affect top and bottom lines of the business;

  • cause upheaval in the senior management ranks;

  • damage relations with employees, investors, analysts, regulators, suppliers, and customers;

  • be unpredictable but more often, quite predictable (and even avoidable); and take years to fully recover from.
     

These examples were true “crises events,” and in their wake emerged today’s crisis management experts which have led to “Enterprise Risk Management,” a multi-disciplinary, multi-functional approach to reducing, eliminating, mitigating, and dealing with the inherent risks to the enterprise.

Risks abound today in our more globalized business environment, but we also need to keep our eye on the ball locally. Through our dedicated section, AC Editors constantly focus on Enterprise Risk Management and the related functions and disciplines as these relate to the Accountability and Governance of the enterprise, in all sectors of the economy. 

 

Killer cantaloupe raises awareness about the need for food safety
(Source: Food Safety)
 Following the recent listeria outbreak awareness has been raised about the safety of food brought home from the market. Specific attention is being focused on how consumers select food, and how they store and prepare it.

News Corp. Makes List of 10 Riskiest Companies for Investors 
(Source: Forbes
GMI, a research firm that grades 4,200 public companies on their corporate governance and responsibility, has released a “Risk List” of 10 companies whose weak governance, poor environmental or social records or misaligned compensation structures present hazards to investors that aren’t adequately reflected in their current valuations.

Target Recalls Children’s Frog Masks Due to Suffocation Hazard
(Source: Clarksville online)
 Target has announced a voluntary recall of children's frog masks. The plush frog masks lack proper ventilation. When secured in place across a child’s face, it presents a suffocation hazard to the child.

 

This is just a sampling of the information in our Accountability-Central.com Alert. Go here for the full text of this alert, and more information on Sustainability, and other Accountability related topics.

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