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Items filtered by date: August 2013
Monday, 26 August 2013 11:22

The Price of Arrogance

The funny thing about New Zealand Dairy Industry. It gets into your blood. And under your skin. Even years after I stopped working in the diary industry, I often catch myself talking as if I was still there. So when the Botulism scare hit, I was riveted to the media updates. And I've not watched, read or listened to the news since 2004. 

Having a degree in Microbiology and Genetics, I know a little something about bugs, and Clostridium botulinum is a tricky little b*****d. It’s a spore-former and will do so in adverse conditions. Basically it creates a hard shell around it’s self to survive. 

And survive it does. 

Pasteurisation, microfiltration and drying, all processes designed kill or remove bacteria.  It will only start growing again when its in favourable conditions, like when its heated up in warm water in baby formula.

I can tell you that botulism is extremely RARE.

Especially in NZ, where we (opps) they have some of the most advanced technology and food standards in the world. And are certainly more hygienic than some of the other dairy factories I’ve worked in.  (By comparison in the USA, 120-150 cases of Botulism are reported every year; 15-25% is due to foodborne botulism). In NZ you can not get into the factory without first removing most of your clothing (underwear is thankfully permitted), shoes and jewellery. Hands need to be washed and sanitised on entering, and you are covered head to foot in white, so you look like an oversized snowman. 

Everything that can be automated, is. Removing the possibility of the product coming  into contact with human hands. The trouble is you can’t see inside the steel pipework. You have to rely on testing.  All factories are governed by Telarc and ISO standards, they are tough standards to acheive and keep. In short - the quality of the dairy products coming out of NZ is second to none. 

What saddens me about all of this, is the NZ Dairy Industry is the backbone of the NZ economy, 90% of the products made are exported. Only a small proportion of milk produced is used for local consumption what is lovingly known as “the town milk supply”. And while I have a soft spot for the country's life blood industry, I am not surprised by the downfall. The manufacturing arm of the industry is arrogant.  For the longest time they have been more concerned about their return than a truly balanced scorecard; Saying 'Yes' to the 'top dog' was more important than challenging or questioning decisions. In fact, if you did you more than likely find yourself on the receiving end of a redundancy.  

The entire daily production of product is driven by the collection, from farms, of millions of litres of milk. If they don't process, the milk is dumped. I don't need to spell out what an environmental disaster that would be. Being a primary industry even the Union have to give 14 days notice of a strike. 

It seems to me that they were more concerned with the size of bonus (ego), than truly creating a great culture where healthy debate and diverse thinking was welcomed. I’m not suggesting that the powers that be did this on purpose. These things happen. What is interesting is how long the information took to get from knowing there was an issue to the CEO. Who sat on the information? Why didn’t someone just take responsibility? What were they afraid of? 

In my experience, it is better to come clean early. Fall on your sword get the pain out of the way. Much like ripping off a plaster from your leg. You know that its going to sting like hell, better to get it over with quickly than prolonging the agony. And most of all get the ego out of the way, it only leads to a bigger fall from grace. 

Have you ever had a situation where you held back only for it to result in a bigger mess? What were your insights? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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