- Walmart has hired Sara Mortimore as its new vice president of global food safety compliance, according to Food Business News. She succeeds Frank Yiannas, who left the role in 2018 to join the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
- Mortimore has nearly 30 years of experience in product safety and regulatory affairs. Most recently she worked for Land O’Lakes as vice president of product safety, quality and regulatory affairs for 11 years, and prior to that spent 18 years with General Mills as director of quality and regulatory operations.
- Mortimore has co-authored several books on food safety and holds a master’s degree in food science. Walmart noted her main academic interest is developing integrated food safety and quality management using a risk-based approach.
Mortimore's role is particularly important with Walmart's ongoing expansion in grocery and its position as the top food seller in the U.S. It's also notable given Walmart's recent announcement that it will establish its own beef supply chain and the onslaught of food illnesses that have emerged in the past year. Walmart can't afford food safety issues or product recalls, and while this position is not new at the company, Mortimore's expertise will add to its strength.
As head of Walmart’s food safety team, Mortimore will oversee employees in every international market where the company operates. Walmart takes food safety seriously, with a Compliance Food Safety team that is responsible for the company’s comprehensive food safety program. The program includes education and training for associates, food handling procedures for associates, third-party food safety audits, food recalls and reducing risk in the supply chain.
Food safety is a growing issue in the U.S. Earlier this year, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund released a report that found hazardous meat and poultry recalls jumped 83% between 2013 and 2018. Around the same time, romaine lettuce was recalled around the country because of E. coli contamination — the third recall of the year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s annual report found foodborne illnesses are on the rise in the U.S. More than 25,000 Americans got sick and 120 died in 2018 from food-related infections, the worst year for outbreaks in more than a decade.
In addition to designated executives to lead food safety efforts, many grocers have been turning to blockchain technology. Last month, Albertsons joined the IBM Food Trust blockchain initiative to pilot the technology’s ability to track romaine lettuce. Kroger and Walmart both began experimenting with IBM’s product last fall, too. Blockchain applications have been touted as a key opportunity for food safety. According to Gartner, 20% of the top global grocers will be using blockchain for food safety and traceability by 2025.
With an increased focus on food safety, Mortimore has a hefty job in front of her, but given the advancements in technology, and the willingness of corporations to experiment with it, Walmart is positioning itself to be a leader in keeping its customers safe.