Sara Lee Hires Food Scientist; Launches New Food Safety Initiatives

Sara Lee Corp. announced yesterday that it has named food safety expert Ann Marie McNamara, PhD, as its vice president of food safety and technology. Dr. McNamara will report to James Carlson, senior vice president of Sara Lee Corp. and CEO of the company's U.S. Foods unit.

The company is also undertaking a number of strategic initiatives to ensure the highest quality and safety for its packaged meats products. In addition to implementing new food safety technology throughout its U.S. Packaged Meats operations, Sara Lee has established a $1 million food safety research fund at the Center for Food and Nutrition Policy at Georgetown University.

Since 1992, McNamara has served as director of the Microbiology Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Public Health and Science in the Food Safety and Inspection Service. She has authored or co-authored numerous scientific papers on food safety, in addition to serving as a USDA Representative to President Clinton's Food Safety Initiative. She also served on the USDA committee responsible for drafting the agency's Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) rules.

Dr. McNamara received a doctor of science degree in microbiology from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health in 1986. She served as a postdoctoral resident at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta from 1986 to 1988. In addition, she holds a master of science degree in medical technology from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor of science degree in medical technology from Quinnipiac College in Hamden, CT.

Across its U.S. Packaged Meats divisions, Sara Lee is currently implementing state-of-the-art technology and advanced operating practices that will help to ensure the continued wholesomeness and safety of its products.

One of these divisions, Bil Mar Foods, suspended production in portions of its Zeeland, MI, plant in December 1998 when it initiated a voluntary recall of specific production lots of hot dogs and other processed meats after learning of an investigation by the CDC and the USDA into a national outbreak of Listeriosis.

"We have worked closely with government agencies to facilitate their investigations," said McMillan. "And now, having consulted outside experts in assessing and developing state-of-the-art food safety practices, we are embarking on a multi-year, $100 million-plus program to implement new processing, cleaning and testing procedures that exceed current industry-wide practices."

Among the actions currently under way are the following:

  • Aggressive environmental and product testing protocols that exceed current industry standards. These procedures involve testing of equipment as well as products for any possible contamination.
  • Investing in specially controlled environments for the production and packaging of meat products.
  • New packaging that provides enhanced preparation instructions to inform consumers about proper handling and cooking procedures.

At the Bil Mar Foods plant, production areas for retail hot dogs and sliced luncheon meats are being completely reconfigured with cutting-edge food safety equipment, and are slated to reopen later this year.

To further protect the nation's food supply, and to identify new methods for improved food safety, Sara Lee's $1 million food safety research grant will fund several simultaneous applied research projects, including studies of post-processing bacteria elimination ("post-pasteurization"), potential food additives, and other best practices for the packaged meats industry.

An advisory committee will oversee these efforts, under the direction of Lester Crawford, DVM, PhD, research professor and director of the Georgetown Public Policy Institute's Center for Food and Nutrition Policy (CFNP). Crawford is the former administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA.