Recall: Learn why the caged bird sings

The recent recall of contaminated meat will likely bring public outcry for additional measures to ensure food safety. These incidents usually result in a call for more and better inspection. Seems logical, doesn't it?

Not quite, says Jeffery Cawley, vice president of Northwest Analytical, an Oregon-based software maker. While more inspection is a reasonable response, Cawley says, it doesn't show the difference between a processor who is pushing the limit and a processor who is processing meat with a wide safety margin.

Cawley believes process management techniques such as statistical process control (SPC) can improve the situation. SPC can be used to reduce process variation where contamination is likely to occur. With a well-managed process, he says, inspection becomes an extra measure of safety.

HACCP is an effective method to analyze a process and to identify potential hazards that can occur in food. The problem with HACCP, says Cawley, is that most systems analyze data as either "good" or "bad." "It's like having a canary in a mine shaft. If the canary is alive, good. If the canary is dead, you probably have very little time to get out of there. SPC is like monitoring the canary a lot more closely and noticing the trend: if it stops singing and eating, you know about the problem earlier and increase your own ability to react." The best way to achieve a safer food supply, says Cawley, is to add statistically effective techniques to programs like HACCP in addition to more and better inspection.

Contact Northwest Analytical at 503-224-7727.