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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, December/January 2006

Tyson wins the 2005 Food Quality Award

Not the Chicken or the Egg, But Commitment

by Mark A. Desorbo

It was nearly 70 years ago that John Tyson jumped in his battered truck and drove from Springdale, Ark., to Chicago with 500 chickens in tow.

That trip was just the beginning, for he expanded hauls to several other cities, including Cincinnati, Detroit, Cleveland, Memphis and Houston.

Over the next several decades, Tyson Foods Inc. would establish egg, hatchery and feed business units before ultimately becoming the poultry, beef and pork powerhouse that it is today.

But another business unit that stemmed from Tyson’s acquisition of IBP Inc. and its Foodbrands subsidiary sparked an endeavor of food quality and safety that involved 3,000 quality assurance workers and technicians, 18 corporate and regional laboratories and a host of different products. That unit is the Tyson Food Safety and Laboratory Services (FSLS) Network, which, along with SYSCO Corp., won the 2005 Food Quality Award.

Merging Philosophies

That 2001 acquisition sparked senior management to quickly deploy a plan that merged philosophies of not only three companies, but two laboratory systems.

Dr. Neal Apple, vice president of Tyson’s Food Safety and Laboratory Services, told Food Quality that two separate cultures, mentalities and rule-sets had to somehow be combined into one. And it was done systematically, taking the best practices out of all the organizations.

To do so, a company-wide dialogue among quality system staffers was organized to hammer our organization dynamics. Every one of the participants talked about their responsibilities. They also discussed strengths and weakness and why quality systems were in place.

From that dialogue, a number of teams were formed and charged with evaluating various aspects of the quality systems, with respect to Tyson’s beef, chicken and pork enterprises.

What came to fruition was an improved Tyson laboratory manual, penned in the spirit of AOAC and BAM procedures, which fortified consistency and strength.

“The biggest hurdle was probably the difference in approach and corporate philosophies. We looked at all the policies and procedures and in some cases we adopted IBP’s and in some cases we adopted Foodbrands as well as some of Tyson’s,” says Dr. Rick Roop, Tyson’s senior vice president of science and regulatory affairs. “In other cases, we merged a few, modified others and made some hybrids.”

While some of the systems in the chicken business do not apply to the beef business, the policies, described by Drs. Apple and Roop as merged, modified and hybrid, can be applied generally and serve as the basis for procedures developed specifically for beef, chicken, pork and ready-to-eat products.

“All the while, they were working with FSIS to understand the regulatory environment,” Dr. Apple says.

Dr. Roop, however, adds that food safety and quality never stops evolving. “Food safety is number one. It will never stop,” he says. “It’s ongoing and you have to continually modify it.”

Inside the FSLS Network

The FSLS Network is comprised of 18 laboratories across the U.S. and Canada, and it was established to ensure the safety and quality of products for Tyson customers. Its operational budget exceeded $21 million for fiscal 2005.

The Food Safety and Research Laboratory houses a 25,000-square-foot facility, which underwent a $5 million renovation in 2002 that more than tripled the size and increase capabilities for testing, research and training.

The network offers research services in the chemical and biological sciences, with comprehensive laboratory expertise in the areas of chemistry, environmental testing, microbiology, serology and virology and environmental wastewater analysis.

“We constantly evaluate new equipment and technologies, bacterial intervention methods, new rapid methods and antimicrobial applications both in the laboratory and in the field,” Vanessa Cook, Tyson’s quality systems and safety manager, writes in the company's award entry. “We work with food safety vendors to rigorously test and validate news methods that prove to be improvements in food safety technology.”

Seven laboratories are accredited to the ISO/IES 17025 standard by the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation, while an eighth lab has just begun the accreditation process. Additionally, Tyson’s Food Safety and Research Laboratory maintain a quality management system that is ISO 9001 certified.

“I have been in awe of the commitment made in facilities, training and space by Tyson Food Safety and Laboratory Services Network to earn their ISO 9001-2000 and 17025 ratings and carefully assess each new quality and safety question as new processes and products are proposed and taken through pilot and production scale start-ups,” Dr Michael G. Johnson, president of Food Microbiology and Quality Associate Inc., of Springdale, wrote in a July 14 letter to Dr. Apple.

Letters of Support

Johnson’s letter of support as a nominee for the Food Quality Award was just one that was packaged in Tyson’s award application, and all shared the same tone.

“From my 35 years of professional experience, working in two academic institutions and two major food related Fortune 50 and 100 sized companies and in numerous other food companies, I can emphatically state that none has set a higher standard for quality and safety than has your [FSLS Network],” Johnson says.

Dr. J. Stan Bailey, a USDA research microbiologist, agreed, saying Tyson’s management has “consistently given both excellent leadership and financial support to the laboratory and food safety and quality professionals within the company.”

Dr. Walter Bottje, head and director for the Center of Excellence for Poultry Science at the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville, Ark.), echoed the same sentiment.

“There is an extensive research program going on in these labs in collaboration with several departments at the University of Arkansas that is built upon rigorous experimental design,” he says. “Often, results of these studies are reported in the public domain that provide benefit not only to Tyson Foods, but to competitors as well. It needs to be recognized that these studies are on the cutting edge of research in this area. Our department is excited about establishing even stronger collaborations with Dr. Neal Apple and his team at Tyson.”

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