A Wal-Mart executive says it is time to improve the safety of food we eat.

“If you did food safety this year the way you did it last year, you’re going to lose,” says Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

In his keynote address at the 2011 American Meat Science Association Reciprocal Meat Conference recently, he said that food processors should exceed traditional methods to managing risk and work to develop a culture of food safety.

Yiannas says the processors must go beyond the traditional strategies based on training, inspection and microbiological testing, which the food industry has employed for years. Those strategies have improved over time, but it’s important for companies to take new approaches.

“HACCP is a step in the right direction, but it’s not the final destination,” he says of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point system that companies use in food safety programs. He cites data for food-borne illness from 1993-1997: 37% were due to improper holding temperature; 11% were due to inadequate cooking; and 19% were due to poor hygiene. He noted that all of those cases were linked to human behavior.

“Scientists often think of behavior as the soft stuff (unlike microbiology), but the soft stuff is the hard stuff,” he says, adding that scientists tend to focus on the science when they should also be looking at the organizational structure of a company.

Companies who excel in food safety culture create food safety expectations; educate and train their food employees; communicate food safety messages frequently; establish food safety goals and measurements; and set consequences including rewards for food safety behaviors.

“It’s a simple thing but recognizing people for doing the right thing is effective,” he says.