Last month I had the pleasure to hear Will Daniels speak. Daniels is the Senior Vice President of Operations at Earthbound Farms, and he spoke to a group of food safety professionals about revolutionizing the way government, industry and academia work together to achieve food safety goals.
Now, Earthbound Farms may not spring to mind immediately when you think “food safety,” and Daniels knows it. The recall of Earthbound’s organic bagged spinach dominated the news cycle during the autumn of 2006; I can remember exactly where I was in my life as the story broke and continued to unfold, as I’m sure many of you can as well. For those who cared about food safety, the recall — and the illness and death associated with it — was big news.
While Daniels sidestepped much (if not all) of the blame for the recall — I’m sure legal considerations keep him from implicating the company in any wrongdoing, especially since, as he says, FDA and FBI investigators found no evidence of such — he does cop to a need for improved industry best practices surrounding food safety. And Daniels is willing to put his money where his mouth is.
Daniels has pledged to invite competitors come view the Earthbound Farms’ vegetable packing facility, where he says his company has developed an automated, in-line sanitation system that vastly improves food safety. And he’s willing to open his doors because, as Daniels said over and over, “food safety is not a competitive advantage.”
This sentiment might best illustrate Daniels’ backlash against what he identifies as the biggest obstacle to a functional food safety system in the U.S.: money. Regulators, he says, need to look “tough” regardless of the overall level of effective service they provide in order to maintain funding levels; universities research whatever seems sexiest because they’re chasing grant money; and food manufacturers cut corners to boost profits.