“We have the top leaders and subject
matter experts from across the dairy
industry working together to solve problems and share solutions,” Stubbs says.
“It’s like working with an all-star team.”
Commitment to Food Safety
Sharpening dairy’s food safety focus is not a new priority. In fact, the
industry is built on decades of sharing
through organizations such as the National Conference on Interstate Milk
Shipments, 3-A Sanitary Standards Inc.,
and the International Association for
But the dairy industry also has seen
the negative impact food safety issues
have had on other categories, such as
one of the worst in U.S. history involving the Peanut Corporation of America
Dairy industry leaders, including
Larry Jensen, who was president of
Leprino Foods Company and chair of
the Innovation Center at the time, and
Mike Haddad, CEO and president of
Schreiber Foods Inc. and current Innovation Center chair, wanted to make
sure dairy heightened its food safety
commitment as a result.
Committee member Edith Wilkin,
vice president of food safety for Lepri-
no, recalls Jensen saying the dairy indus-
try needed to set aside its competitive interests and tackle food safety as a collective
category. Jensen and Haddad felt strongly that food safety should never be used by a
company as a competitive advantage and that a significant crisis could hurt everyone
in the dairy category.
Together, they encouraged the Innovation Center to make food safety one of its
“Larry was concerned that perhaps not as much attention or education was hap-
pening across the industry,” Wilkin says. “He began to talk with some of the CEOs
who were part of the Innovation Center’s efforts, and they came away with the sense
that we need to do something more intentioned in terms of training, education, best
practices, and more outreach.”
Soon, that vision became a reality, and about a dozen leaders from different
businesses left their competitive mindsets outside the doors of a Wisconsin hotel
meeting room and huddled for the first time as a single industry. Wilkin remembers
Tom Hedge, a former executive with Schreiber Foods, leading that first committee
meeting and asking the room, “So, what kinds of problems are you seeing?”
His question was met with somewhat of a memorable thud.
“When you begin to talk about ‘here’s what I do sanitation-wise,’ those get very
close to the vest and typically that’s not the type of information that is shared, even
among friends,” she says. “It was awkward and difficult. However, the people we
brought together were all in the quality food safety arena. Gradually, there was an
opening up, which really helped.”
A Spirit of Collaboration
The Innovation Center is proving that a large, complex industry is stronger when
it works with a collective spirit on important issues such as food safety. Led by
CEOs and chairs of dairy cooperatives, processors, retailers, and associations, the
Innovation Center provides a precompetitive forum for the dairy community to
develop credible, industry-aligned tools and resources to advance U.S. Dairy’s long-standing commitment to social responsibility and continuous improvement (see
“Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy Food Safety Resources,” below left).
More than 60 percent of U.S. milk production is represented by Innovation
Center board members, including many of dairy’s biggest companies, such as
Keeping cheese, fluid milk, dry ingre-
dients, yogurt, and ice cream safe from
pathogens has their full commitment. As
a result, Wilkin says, the buy-in of that
original food safety vision of “working as
one” is today fully embraced.
“Some of the newer people who
Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy Food Safety
participate in the Innovation Center
are somewhat shocked at how frank our
conversations are,” she says. “We have a
(dairy company) president who came from
the soft drink industry and he said, ‘We
didn’t talk to each other. I’m surprised at
what dairy does through the Innovation
“It always amazes him. It amazes a lot
To strengthen manufacturing practices in all dairy processing facilities, advance science-based tools, and diminish food safety risks that could compromise the reputation of the U.S. dairy industry, the Innovation Center for U.S.
Dairy provides workshops, tools, and guidance documents.
All materials are available at www.usdairy.com/foodsafety.
• Dairy Plant Food Safety Workshops – Design checklists, scientific reference
• Dairy Supplier Food Safety Management Workshops – Risk assessment cal-
culator, best practices guide, workshop registration
• Listeria Guidance for the U.S. Dairy Industry – Comprehensive guidance for
manufacturers of all sizes, free online in English and Spanish: www.usdairy.
• Spanish-Language Tools – Listeria guidance document, checklists, and Sani-
tation Standard Operating Procedures, examples available in Spanish
• Listeria Research Consortium
• Traceability Guidance