retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

We talk a lot here about food safety. I've spent most of my time at the FMI Connect show in Chicago working on a food safety-related project.

To be honest, some retailers understand and are embracing the idea that the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations are going to increase responsibility and culpability, and are being progressive and proactive in doing what they need to do, understanding that if these new rules are pro-consumer, it will be good for the industry long-term.

But some don't.

And I think many would agree that when some people and companies don't do the right thing, it creates the possibility that the entire food industry could be tainted.

And so, it was with some dismay yesterday that I read in the New York Times about how "a federal inspector on a routine visit to food service facilities at Los Angeles International Airport in January found conditions that, she wrote, could compromise the safety of food meant for airline passengers.

"Bathrooms where employees washed their hands were dirty. Machines used to control bacteria were not adequately maintained. And clutter in the food storage area created a potential for pests, the inspector for the Food and Drug Administration wrote, according to a report to be issued Wednesday by Unite Here, a union representing airline food workers.

"The Los Angeles facilities were one of several catering operations owned and operated by Flying Food Group, which prepares meals for some of the world’s largest airlines. Inspectors over the past few years have found unsanitary conditions in several kitchens operated by the company."

According to the story, a spokesman for Flying Food Group "acknowledged the findings of the F.D.A. inspections cited in the union report, but added that the problems at the facilities had been fixed. The company also said the report from the union was part of an effort to organize workers at the company."

That statement alone is an Eye-Opener.

Here's the deal.

I don't give a damn whether the FDA findings were made public because of a union. That doesn't change the findings. To blame the union strikes me a a desperate attempt to change the subject.

And while it's nice that Flying Food Group has fixed the problems, it does not address the fact that however the company was structured, staffed and supervised a culture existed that allowed these problems to develop and exist in the first place.

So, I have two questions.

One. What kind of person comes to work each day, knowing that he or she is dealing with food, and looks at these sorts of disgusting conditions and says, this is an acceptable way to conduct business? Because I cannot even fathom that.

Two. What kind of person thinks that in 2015, they can get away with this crap?

Flying Food Group ought to be told by every company with which it does business to take a flying leap. Trust violated. Business over. It is that simple.

Here's the sad reality that must be faced by every company in the food business, and by every executive who thinks that "this could not happen here."

It can happen. It will happen.

Vigilance is critical. Transparency is vital. And a progressive approach to food safety has to be fundamental.
KC's View: