Wal-Mart is pushing poultry processors to improve safety

by Bryan Salvage
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The retailer is initiating a four-part plan designed to address pathogens throughout the supply chain.

BENTONVILLE, ARK. — Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is implementing new food safety measures designed to improve the safety of the chicken and turkey products it sells. The four-point plan announced Dec. 18 reaches throughout the supply chain and is designed to add layers of safety to the retailer’s current food safety efforts.

“As we looked at poultry safety, in general, despite the fact we already have what we believe are industry benchmark requirements, including prevention-based certification against one of the GS-5 recognized standards, we decided it was prudent for us to implement additional layers of protection or hurdles,” said Frank Yiannis, vice-president of food safety. “These hurdles really reside along the entire poultry production continuum.

“Realizing there wasn’t any ‘silver bullet’ or single thing we can do that really addresses prevention and reduction along the entire poultry production continuum, (the program) truly centers around a four-point plan.”

Part one of the new plan focuses on breeding stock, Mr. Yiannis said.

“There’s something referred to as vertical transmission … if the stock is contaminated with Salmonella, it can be vertically transmitted down the continuum,” Mr. Yiannis said. “Our first point asks our chicken suppliers to make sure that they’re only sourcing from primarily breeder stock suppliers that participate in U.S.D.A.’s National Poultry Improvement Plan.

“We’re asking our suppliers to know what the primary breeder stock are finding and to work with the primary breeder stock to make sure that rates of positives, although they’re very low, continue to decline year after year … and try to drive them to zero.”

Point two focuses on bio-control measures at the growing level.

“We’re asking our suppliers to redouble their efforts in that area,” Mr. Yiannis said. “We’re asking them if they find Salmonella serotypes of human health concern that they immunize (parental flocks) against the serotypes they’re finding in those facilities. We want them to eradicate it, but we want them to immunize the parental flocks to provide immunity.”

At the processing level, Wal-Mart is asking its suppliers to validate food safety interventions they have in place and that primary processing for the whole bird achieves, at a minimum, cumulative 4-log (99.99%) reduction of Salmonella on the whole carcass.

Point four of the retailer’s plan focuses on such chicken parts as breasts, wings, drums and thighs.

“Today, consumers oftentimes are buying chicken parts and there’s some data in the industry that suggests that contamination rates in parts are higher than they are in whole birds,” Mr. Yiannis said. “That’s an area of focus for opportunity so we’re asking our suppliers to implement an intervention, or a combination of interventions, to reduce Salmonella at a minimum by 1 log on parts — or a 10-fold reduction on the parts. So, you could see a 99.99% reduction on the whole bird and another 10-fold reduction on the parts.

“We’re giving our suppliers some time to do that because it will cause changes to be made in the industry — not everybody is doing treatments or interventions on parts. We’ve given our suppliers until June 2016 to be compliant to that portion of the requirement.”

Wal-Mart’s improved food safety effort began this past February, during a meeting that involved domestic and international industry representatives as well as officials from the U.S.D.A. and the C.D.C., Mr. Yiannis said.

“We’re in a new era of public-private partnerships,” he said. “In the 21st Century, we realize public-private stakeholders are concerned about food safety and have to do a better job of collaborating. This is the perfect illustration in how it can be done.”

Gary Acuff, director of the Center for Food Safety and professor of food microbiology, Texas A&M University, College Station, said this may be the first time a retailer has implemented this type of enhanced food safety control.

“They are asking suppliers to validate their process to meet a food-safety specification,” Dr. Acuff said. “Retailers have often implemented ‘enhanced safety measures’; however, I believe this is the first time a retailer has required a quantified measurement of process control through validation.”

Dr. Acuff called the initiative a “win” for Wal-Mart and a “win” for consumers.

“Safe, raw foods can never be guaranteed, but this is a step in the right direction to provide an enhanced level of scientific control with quantified validation of success,” he said.
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