Frank Yiannas, Wal-Mart Stores' vice president of food safety, announced a new poultry program this past month.

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – In 2010, retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. got the full attention of its beef suppliers by enhancing its food safety requirements with additional testing and verifications. Under that new program, beef suppliers to Walmart and Sam’s Club were given 13 months to comply with the mandate requiring them to implement and verify food safety interventions resulting in a 2-log reduction of E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella. Additionally, slaughtering facilities supplying those processors were given an additional 12 months to also implement and verify achievement of a 5-log reduction of the pathogens.

In light of the company’s recent announcement that it is supplementing the food safety requirements of its poultry processors (which includes the suppliers of ground turkey), Frank Yiannas, the company’s vice president of food safety, tells MEAT+POULTRY that implementing the beef program successfully several years ago helped in developing the requirements for the poultry program this past month.

“We evaluated our beef safety initiative and without question it was successful.” As part of the evaluation process, Yiannas and his team did a study of beef recalls that occurred after the Walmart initiative, comparing suppliers that don’t supply Walmart with those that do supply the retail giant. He says that while the entire beef industry has seen reductions in beef recalls over the years, nearly 100 percent of those companies complying with the latest Walmart requirements experienced a reduction in recalls.

In terms of the ability of the beef companies to comply with the new requirements, which didn’t mandate or endorse any particular intervention, Yiannas says in “very rare” instances there were suppliers that weren’t able or chose not to comply, “and we stopped doing business with them.”

Deadlines and target dates for mandates such as these are carefully considered as the company realizes the impact it might have on certain suppliers. “We try to be very thoughtful in terms of how we calculate and establish deadlines and target dates,” says Yiannas. For the beef program, most of the suppliers were able to comply with the deadlines and in rare cases temporary extensions were made for certain suppliers. “We’re always willing to do that on a case-by-case basis,” he says.

If new requirements are expected to require retro-fitting and changes to the production plans, additional time is granted at the outset, as is the case with the new poultry requirements. “In my view, all of the learnings of the beef-safety initiative informed the poultry safety initiative,” says Yiannas. “So I feel that this initiative has actually been conducted a little better than the last one.”

The key in continuous improvement requires the involvement of all the players involved in the supply chain, and Walmart’s latest campaign is no exception. “We are not interested in coming up with a food safety initiative here in Bentonville in our corner office without having constructive dialogue with our stakeholders and suppliers. Our suppliers will never get caught by surprise on a food safety initiative,” Yiannas says.

MEAT+POULTRY is proud to feature Frank Yiannas on the cover of the February issue as part of an exclusive report on Walmart's commitment to food safety, including its recently announced initiative for suppliers of its poultry and ground turkey products.