ORLANDO, Fla. – Noting that in 2011 there were two of the deadliest food borne illness outbreaks in decades — one related to sprouts grown in Germany and contaminated with E. coli and the other related to cantaloupes grown in the United States and contaminated with Listeria — Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., told the more than 900 attendees at the Global Food Safety Conference that food safety is at a crossroads.

In a joint presentation with Yves Rey, corporate quality control director for Groupe Danone, Paris, Yiannas outlined the food-safety challenges facing food and beverage manufacturers.

“Outbreaks are getting larger and the world is getting smaller,” he said. “There is no easy answer or silver bullets, but there may be simple solutions — we need collaboration.”

Advancing global food safety through collaboration is the theme of this year’s conference and Rey highlighted the challenges all stakeholders in the food-safety system are facing.

“Consumer trust is at its worst, the global population is growing and have to be fed, the global food system is more complex than ever before, disease detection is becoming more sophisticated, new pathogens are emerging, the population of immuno-compromised people is growing and social media is opening new ways to communicate,” he said.

Both Yiannas and Rey linked the reduction in consumer trust and the emergence of social media to emerging trends, such as consumer demand for product perceived as local.

“People concerned about food safety may turn to local products,” Rey said. “As a food-safety professional, I can not say local is safer. Look at the outbreak in Germany last year — smaller is not safer every time.”

Yiannas concluded his remarks by noting that all stakeholders need to have a “bigger conversation” about food safety.

“There is another big outbreak out there,” he said. “Food safety has to be a collaborative effort.”
Areas of collaboration discussed during the first day of the meeting included government regulations, the sharing of data by both public and private entities and establishing consistent standards for food safety certification audits.

“Food-safety stakeholders are more reliant on each other than ever before,” Rey concluded.