By Lisa Lupo

If you’ve ever doubted that people have a way of convincing themselves of what they want to believe, regardless of the facts, consider this: On the one hand, you have January’s unprecedented $1.6 billion Powerball lottery jackpot, and the winding lines that form at gas stations and other lottery outlets across the country every time the winnings get high. The conviction: It could happen to me.

On the other hand, there are the several highly publicized E. coli, Salmonella, and norovirus outbreaks at the popular Mexican restaurant chain, at which people who knew about the outbreaks continued to form lines because they had a craving for it. (Or because, as I heard the other day, “The line was short.”) The conviction: It won’t happen to me.

It’s an interesting contrast, particularly when one compares the odds:

  • According to official statistics from the Multi-State Lottery Association, ticket holders have a 1 in 292.2 million chance of winning a Powerball jackpot.
  • According to CDC statistics, Americans have a 1 in 4 chance of getting food poisoning each year.

Based on these, the very opposite lines of thinking would be much more accurate:

  • Powerball winnings? It won’t happen to me.
  • Food poisoning? It could (and likely will) happen to each of us at least once in our lives.

I’m not completely sure what this tells us, except that we humans are interesting, and eternally optimistic, creatures. But it also is something that every food business worker, manager, and executive should keep in mind the next time you read about a foodborne illness outbreak or recall—and think, “Poor guys. Glad it didn’t happen to me/my business.” It could happen to your business ... and you directly.

With the FSMA’s expansion of FDA authorities; the increased focus on food safety by the Department of Justice (you know, the ones who sentenced the PCA executives to decades in prison); and the ever-growing attention of the media and consumers, the chance of a contamination being detected and your company—and you—being identified and held accountable is continually rising.

Compliance with all the new FSMA rules is intended to help decrease incidents, but regulatory compliance has never really been the primary driver of food safety. Rather, it is one’s dedication to food safety, the development and building of a food safety culture, and the ongoing commitment of the entire team to safe food that makes the difference.

The chance of getting food poisoning may never get as low as the astronomical odds of winning the Powerball, but there’s nothing wrong with shooting for the stars. In fact, the winners who shot for the stars and split the $1.6 billion jackpot proved that it could happen to you—as it did for three winners. But, the people who fall ill from food poisoning prove that that could happen to you too—as it does for an estimated 48 million Americans—every year.

I know where I’m putting my money. You?

P.S. You’ll notice this issue incorporates a new look. We’ve added features and industry experts and updated our design—while retaining our overall purpose and commitment to provide you with actionable information you can use in your plant each day. We hope you like the changes.

The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at llupo@gie.net.