Perspectives from a former regulator and current industry food safety manager
Guest column by Helen Piotter
My name is Helen Piotter, and I am a former Indiana State Milk Rating Officer. I presently work for a dairy company as a food safety and regulatory manager, and I’d like to share my reasons for participating with 3-A Sanitary Standards, Inc., a community of professionals working together to develop criteria for the hygienic design of food processing equipment.
I started my first full-time job with the state of Indiana in May 1980 as a Dairy Farm Specialist. I had no prior dairy background, other than classes at Purdue University in dairy products and management. I was fortunate that the state agency I joined had very knowledgeable people on staff to train me.
I quickly learned that dairy regulations are unique in the food industry in the United States. Interstate shipments of Grade A dairy products are highly regulated, yet they are executed through a cooperative program in which all interested parties are able to work on the formation of the regulations and have their voices heard.
My introduction to 3-A Sanitary Standards, Inc. (3-A SSI) came when I was a farm inspector and learned that dairy equipment must be built and installed under strict standards. The state of Indiana used the 3-A Sanitary Standards and Practices documents as guidelines for equipment construction and placement. I learned how to recognize poor construction and improper placement of components and used 3-A standards for guidance when a piece of equipment or its installation was questionable, or when new installations were being planned.
As I gained experience, I transitioned to a plant inspection position. There again, we used the 3-A Sanitary Standards and Practices as guidelines for evaluating plant equipment, and they were valuable to me as an inspector.
In my role as a State Milk Rating Officer (SMRO), my final position as a state employee, I received initial training with the Food and Drug Administration Milk Specialists to maintain my qualification. SMROs are highly regarded across the industry and are called on by many regulators and others in the dairy industry for help and knowledge. The SMRO’s primary job is rating state raw milk supplies and dairy processing facilities to allow for interstate shipment of Grade “A” raw milk and Grade “A” dairy products. We evaluated many different types of facilities and equipment, so I stayed current with the 3-A Sanitary Standards and Practices and relied on them when making decisions on the sanitary design and usage of dairy equipment.
After becoming an SMRO, I was invited to join the 3-A SSI Committee for Sanitary Procedures (CSP), composed of only regulatory personnel. The committee reviews modified or newly written standards and practices for regulatory correctness and food safety. Once I held this position, I realized the full value of 3-A SSI publications, the organization’s great wealth of knowledge and the opportunity it allows to develop working relationships with experts in the industry. I learned a great deal from my peers and others in the dairy industry.
My participation in 3-A SSI included meeting and working closely with manufacturers of various pieces of equipment that were used to produce both Grade “A” and non-Grade “A” products. I also worked with regulatory officials from other states, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, FDA and representatives from many other areas of the industry. By remaining active in 3-A SSI, I’ve built and maintained contacts and business relationships that make it easy to communicate about many different pieces of equipment and the different techniques used in manufacturing the equipment.
Face-to-face meetings give participants in 3-A SSI a great platform for discussing issues and solutions. Each individual has unique knowledge of his or her particular field, and in this forum, the knowledge is easily shared.
Another advantage of participating in 3-A is being able to choose to join a variety of work groups. These groups allowed me to expand my knowledge of different principals of designs, materials, manufacturing processes and construction of components. If asked to pick one work group from which I benefited the most, I would name the work group that compiled the 3-A Sanitary Practice titled “Sanitary Construction, Installation, Testing and Operation of High-Temperature Short-Time and Higher-Heat Shorter-Time Pasteurizer Systems.” This practice is an expansive document detailing the construction and proper placement of components in a pasteurizing system. Pasteurization is the heart of dairy product safety, and this document is a very valuable reference and teaching tool.
I left my state position 11 years ago to gain more experience in the dairy industry and worked as a quality assurance manager. My value in this position, as well as for the one I currently hold, has been greatly enhanced by my affiliation, experience and positions with 3-A SSI.
Participation in 3-A SSI is completely voluntary, as is the use of the standards and practices. The volunteers working within 3-A SSI are some of the most dedicated people I have met throughout my dairy career.
If you’re interested in finding out more about 3-A SSI and the many resources it has to offer, I encourage you to visit www.3-a.org.
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3-A Sanitary Standards, Inc. (3-A SSI) is a community of professionals working together to develop criteria for the hygienic design of food processing equipment. IDFA is one of the five founding members of the 3-A program and develops industry positions on 3-A standards through its 3-A User Task Force. For more information, contact John Allan, IDFA vice president of regulatory affairs and international standards, at firstname.lastname@example.org.