2 0 0 Meat Thermometer F
38 ;e Costco Connection JANUARY 2014
examining ways of driving those numbers
down even further.
New technologies can help. For example,
a new video system can monitor production
processes and spot points in these processes
where cross-contamination may occur.
CC: Your agency in 2011 outlined a strategic five-year plan for improved food safety.
What progress has been made?
USDA: We’ve seen real progress in fighting E. coli and salmonella, as noted previously. Also, we’re trying new approaches, such
as an initiative where all levels of FSIS participate in conference calls about what’s going on
in the food industry. The inspectors have the
real day-to-day experience of what the industry is doing in live situations to reduce or
eliminate pathogens. And from this information, we can see if new regulations are worth
considering, or whether there are other ways
to enhance food-safety protections.
CC: What ultimately can consumers do
to protect themselves in this whole food-safety arena?
USDA: The best thing people can do is
follow the four safe-handling steps: clean,
separate, cook and chill. We’ve put a lot of
work into making sure consumers are aware
of the importance of things such as using a
food thermometer and separating raw and
Also, it’s important to emphasize that it’s
not the consumers’ responsibility to ensure
that their food is safe. It’s the industry’s
responsibility, and it’s our job to make sure
that the industry is meeting that responsibility. But people also need to hold us accountable to make sure that we’re doing the right
job and that the industry is doing everything
they can to produce safe food. C
AS FOOD GOES from farm to table, it
passes through many hands—and that
includes where the food is sold to the public. At Costco, a comprehensive program is
followed to keep food as safe as possible—before it arrives in the warehouses,
while it’s there and until it goes out the
door. The goal, says Craig Wilson, who
oversees Costco’s food-safety and quality-assurance program, is for food safety to be
invisible to members.
The program is implemented throughout
the company’s operations, with standards
typically going beyond what is required by
law, Craig says. Here’s an overview.
• In the warehouses, all managers are
required to take high-level food-safety man-
ager’s training, based on national standards
with additional Costco requirements, every
three years. All hourly employees in the
warehouses must take food-safety courses
through the company’s in-house “Costco U”
food-safety training each year.
• Costco also created specific food-
handling rules for each area where food is
located in the warehouses. For example,
workers in the fresh-food delis must follow
precise steps in setting up, operating and
washing equipment; keeping foods sepa-
rate to prevent cross-contamination on
work surfaces; properly washing their
hands; and more.
• For food that comes from outside
suppliers, Costco follows an extensive vendor audit program, in which products are
closely inspected and all supporting documentation is readily available. Factories are
inspected each year, and Costco buyers
who deal with food products are all food-safety certified and require new vendors to
undergo a safety audit before their products
can be sold at Costco.
• Further testing comes from Costco’s
quality-assurance (QA) team, which ana-
lyzes samples in the company’s labs. At
Costco’s massive meat plant in Tracy,
California, extensive lab tests are conducted
on all ground beef, meatballs and hot dogs.
• If there is a problem, Costco’s infor-
mation system can block the sale of any
item within minutes of a recall notification
or public health alert. And, since each pur-
chase is recorded at the cash registers,
members can be immediately notified by
phone or mail if there’s a problem.
“We take whatever steps we can to
ensure safe food for our members,” says
Craig. “This program applies to any and all
of the food featured in Costco.”—TT
Costco and food safety
Pathologist Mary Sutton checks a food
sample for pathogens in a USDA lab.
Extensive food-safety testing is
done in Costco’s meat plant in
Tracy, California, where Costco’s
hot dogs, meatballs and ground
beef are made.
FARM TO TABLE
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