The holidays are my most favorite time of year. As we cross from November into December, families across the nation adorn their Christmas trees, their homes and their yards with bright and inviting lights. Each year, American consumers spend approximately $6 billion on holiday decorations, and 150 million light sets will be sold. During the holidays, who doesn’t love the light that illuminates our surroundings and, by extension, our lives?

This year, underneath those lights, millions of consumers will also be safely enjoying their holiday meals. And as I thought about the awesome responsibility the food industry has to make each of those meals safe, I was struck by how a simple thing, like a few extra lights, can transform not only one family’s household, but an entire world.

Indeed, neighborhoods and homes are not the only places that can benefit from bright lights. During a recent conversation with a colleague, I was surprised to hear about one food company’s “enlightenment.”

Although federal regulations require meat-processing facilities to have adequate illumination in the processing environment, the regulations do not specify how much illumination should exist during an establishment’s sanitary post- and pre-operational inspections. In the discussions with my colleague, I learned about how one company’s cleaning employees and QA personnel were consistently using low-powered flashlights when cleaning and inspecting the facility. Although they thought the job they were doing was adequate, the company was continuously cited (over the course of an entire year) by FSIS inspection staff for recurring and repeated pre-operational sanitation failures.

They couldn’t figure out what they were doing wrong. Until, one day, the light bulb went off.

A savvy QA tech went and bought an extremely high power flashlight. She then used the new flashlight during a post-operational inspection after the cleaning crew had finished their jobs. The QA tech was shocked by what she saw. The inside of various types of equipment, which looked extremely clean with a low-powered flashlight, looked extremely dirty and insanitary with a high-powered flashlight.

To borrow her words, “it was like night and day.”

So, avoid your next non-compliance report by buying some better flashlights. And, just like our holiday decorations: the brighter, the better. Not only will you ensure a safer meal for each of your customers, you’re guaranteed to keep your own days bright.

Happy Holidays to all!!  NP