Can Food Safety Go Green? A Discussion in Three Scenes

By Berg, Rebecca | Journal of Environmental Health, October 2009 | Go to article overview

Can Food Safety Go Green? A Discussion in Three Scenes


Berg, Rebecca, Journal of Environmental Health


Scene I: Food Safety Summit at NEHA's Annual Educational Conference

1:00 p.m., June 22, 2009

The room is packed. The panelists are, on the regulatory side, Aggie Hale, environmental administrator for the Division of Food Safety at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and Jeannine Ertter, consumer affairs specialist with the Food and Drug Administration's (FDAs) Center for Food Safety and Nutrition. Industry is represented by Steven Grover, vice president of cost and product management for the Steak 'n Shake Company; Gary Cohen, a food-packaging expert from Unisource Worldwide; and Zia Siddiqi, director of quality systems for Orkin, Inc. Providing perspectives from academia are Emmanuel Iyiegbuniwe, associate professor of environmental health science at Western Kentucky University, and moderator Dave McSwane, professor and interim associate dean at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University.

Title of the discussion: "It Isn't Easy Being Green."

Industry Offers Some Solutions

Easy or not, the issue of sustainability in food safety has to be faced. All parties, government and private-sector--agreed on that. Public interest in the issue is strong and widespread.

"People want to eat in a restaurant that is environmentally correct," Cohen said. "They want to know that the air they're breathing has met certain standards."

Siddiqi confirmed that a lot of the food suppliers and retail establishments Orkin works with are concerned about impacts on the environment.

"The days of going in and bombing the place are over," he commented. His company aims for minimum possible use of pesticides and turns first to the least toxic chemicals. Many food-grade materials are now available. But he added a caveat: If an operator waits until a major pest problem is apparent, "there's not much green we can do." The integrated pest management (IPM) approach is key here. Good housekeeping, building maintenance, and sanitation may not be glamorous, but they form the "backbone" of sustainable pest control.

Moderator David McSwane asked about opportunities and challenges posed by the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC's) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system. LEED uses third-party verification to certify building and community designs as green. The assessments use the following metrics: energy savings, water efficiency, CO Z emissions reduction, indoor environmental quality, stewardship of resources, and sensitivity to impacts.

Cohen noted a new development, "LEED for Retail," part of which focuses on commercial interiors. USGBC has been working with over 80 retail pilot projects to design these new programs. (For a sense of what the programs will involve and a checklist of what retail establishments can do to earn certification, visit www. usgbc. org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=1734.)

"If I owned a restaurant and was looking for a competitive edge," Cohen said, "I would definitely be looking at what LEED for Retail is, because it will put a kind of good housekeeping mark on it."

Aren't Dollars Green Too?

Evident from Steven Grover's comments was the role that the financial bottom line can play in promoting green behaviors-as well as the challenges and limitations it may pose. For a sustainability practice to itself be sustainable, he said, it has to meet four criteria. It has to be profitable, it has to be executable, it has to be safe, and it has to be effective.

"I don't know a restaurant that doesn't recycle its grease," he said. "And the reason they do it is people pay them for it. They make money on it." (The grease gets used in biodiesel fuels and cosmetics.) Most restaurants also make an effort to conserve energy because "it's good for the bottom line." But, he said, "when you get to composting and sourcing locally, I pose a question.

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