Home Page The Publication The Editor Contact Information Insurance Key issues Book Subscribe

Vol. 2, Iss. 22
November 27, 2013


Declarations: The Coverage Opinions Interview With Brian Rodgers, Corporate Director Of Safety And Risk Management For Butterball, LLC

The Man Who Gets Your Turkey
Safely To The Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving is a holiday filled with risk. There is the risk that crazy Uncle Joe will once again tell wildly inappropriate limericks at the dinner table. And there is the even bigger risk that Aunt Gertrude will sit down in front of you, blocking the television and start to ask you how you are doing, just as the Lions have the ball in the red zone and the game has big implications for your fantasy football team. “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine Aunt Gert. Do you mind sliding over just a bit.”

But there is one aspect of Thanksgiving that causes no concern. Nobody ever worries that the turkey won’t be safe. And for that we can thank Brian Rodgers, Corporate Director of Safety and Risk Management for Butterball, LLC and his team of other safety and risk professionals.

The poultry business is a perilous one. It is considered a high hazardous industry by OSHA. It takes a non-stop effort to keep employees safe and the birds free of problems that can cause injury to consumers. This was all explained by Brian as he spoke to me from Butterball’s Huntsville, Arkansas plant just ten days before Thanksgiving. In fact, the Huntsville plant is one of two where all of Butterball’s fresh turkeys are produced. Just before getting on the phone Brian had been in the processing area looking at turkeys that would be on Thanksgiving tables the following week. Clearly I was speaking to the epicenter for Thanksgiving.

Butterball’s biggest risk is to its reputation. It is not only the largest vertically integrated turkey producer in the United States, accounting for 20 percent of country’s total turkey production, but it is an iconic brand. While the company makes lots of products, its turkeys are synonymous with one of America’s most sacred days. Can you even name another brand of whole turkeys? I can’t.

The job is a big one and the stakes are high. Brian and his team of safety and risk professionals get it done (but hopefully not well done). Brian brings a lot of experience to the table. He has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Public Administration and worked for the California State Police. Prior to joining Butterball seven years ago he held safety and risk management positions at Sun Microsystems, Heinz and Cisco Foods. He also has a Six Sigma Green Belt. If you don’t know what that means it is worth looking up.

From his office at Butterball’s corporate headquarters in Garner, North Carolina, Brian is responsible for insurance and safety/risk management and believes strongly that these two functions must be addressed hand in hand. Butterball has 5,500 employees. Given the nature of the business, which involves a lot of knives and grinding machines, there is a high percentage of musculoskeletal injuries. Needless to say, the worker’s compensation exposure is a serious one. But by taking an active and hands on role in safety, at the ground level, he is able to explain to the company’s worker’s compensation insurers what Butterball is doing to minimize the exposure. It is working. Butterball’s OSHA reportable injury rate is 2 incidents per 100 full-time employees. Compare this to the industry average of 5.8 incidents per 100. Butterball’s worker’s compensation rates are significantly less than those of its peers. Brian’s objective is simple – focus on front-end safety to achieve back-end benefits.

Butterball’s general liability exposure seems fairly low. Brian cited a few incidents a year of a turkey netting breaking and a frozen turkey landing on someone’s foot. And there are some claims for dental injuries on account of someone allegedly eating a Butterball product. Brian couldn’t think of any incidents of injury caused by someone swallowing one of those pop-up timers. While Butterball no longer uses them in its turkeys, the decision to phase them out was not tied to that risk. He also couldn’t think of any claims arising out of Butterball’s famous Turkey Talk Line, the company’s hotline that handles about 100,000 calls per year during the Thanksgiving season concerning turkey preparation (1-800-Butterball). He couldn’t speak highly enough about the “seasoned” pros that field those calls and how knowledgeable they are. All in all, the company seems to have its traditional CGL exposure well under control.

Besides worker safety, the other significant areas for risk are the health of the birds and the need to maintain the company’s seven plants in a condition to ensure safety of the products. Among many other things, the production machinery goes through constant wash down processes and USDA inspectors are ever-present in the plants grading and evaluating birds for consumption.

According to the company’s website, during 2009, all Butterball facilities went through a strenuous third party audit as part of the Global Food Safety Initiative. The GFSI is an international nonprofit foundation created with a mission to work on continuous improvement in food safety management systems to ensure confidence in the delivery of food to consumers.

Butterball selected the British Retail Consortium to certify that its facilities were compliant with the international criteria. The BRC Global Standard for Food Safety is an accredited, certifiable standard, and the first one to be approved by GFSI. It has been adopted by more than 8,000 food businesses in more than 80 countries. The BRC process involves more than 300 elements related to food safety and quality, as well as worker safety, environmental impact and management commitment. All Butterball facilities were certified during the 2009 audit process. It’s one thing for a company to tout its safety record on its website, but another for the company to then link to the audit results, as Butterball does.

Butterball’s involvement in producing turkeys covers every step – from the hatchery (newborn turkeys are called poults, I learned) to the dinner table. Maintaining bird health throughout this multi-step process is a significant risk management function. Despite all that the company does to ensure safety of the birds and the condition of its plants, product recall is an exposure that can’t be ignored. For this the company is self-insured.

Butterball is vigilant in making sure that the Thanksgiving turkey gets to your dinner table safely. The consumer has just one step in the process Brian told me -- cook the bird to 165 degrees.

Website by Balderrama Design Copyright Randy Maniloff All Rights Reserved