Wendy's talks animal welfare, antibiotics

Company says it recognizes the realities of livestock production.

Wendy's chief communications officer Lilliana Esposito told attendees at the 2016 Cattle Industry Convention and National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. Trade Show, "We're going to be investing even more in our hamburger business and in our beef business, and it all starts with you."

Wendy's is currently in the process of reintroducing its single hamburger, which Esposito said is at the core of the restaurant.

“We're going to be putting some major marketing and advertising support behind it and really bringing that fresh, quality beef story to the American consumer in a way that we haven't done in a really long time,” she said.

Esposito said the foundation of the Wendy's brand for the last 45 years has been fresh, quality beef, and this is a shared passion with the cattle industry.

“We know that this is your livelihood and lifeblood as well,” she said during a session that focused on the company's branding and evolving protocols for delivering “100% fresh, quality beef.”

Esposito thanked attendees for taking care of their animals and helping bring Wendy's customers a product they love.

“We're proud of our business, but I think we're prouder of our values and the values that guide or business,” she said. “At the center of that value chain is the idea that quality is our recipe. That all starts with the quality of our products.”

Esposito said there no product is more important to Wendy's than its beef and added that the restaurant has always been committed to a very fresh and high-quality beef supply chain (Infographic).

Quality beef

Wendy's senior vice president of quality assurance Dennis Hecker, who has been with Wendy's for 35 years, said the restaurant is proud of the product specifications of the ground beef it serves. Wendy's beef is 100% steer or heifer meat, 42 months of age or younger, all grain fed, all American and all processed in the U.S.

According to Hecker, the raw materials never exceed six days, and the finished product patties have a shelf life of only 13 days. Additionally, Escherichia coli testing is done on all of the raw materials, and samples are pulled every 15 minutes while the patties are being processed.

Animal care, antibiotics

Wendy's has an animal welfare team that meets on a quarterly basis to talk about all the audits that had been conducted as well as all of the scientific information produced during the previous quarter.

The company requires its suppliers to have an employee training program and to monitor employees. Additionally, Wendy's conducts audits but also requires third-party auditing.

In fact, Hecker said Wendy's has conducted more than 1,300 audits over the past 15 years. Every supplier is audited by Wendy's once a year and then again by a Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization-certified third-party auditing firm. If the supplier fails, an additional audit is required.

In regard to antibiotics, Hecker said Wendy's current goal is to refine, reduce and replace antibiotic therapy for livestock in its supply chain.

Wendy's currently is not asking that antibiotics not be used but that antibiotic use is refined and used only as necessary, he added.

“At this point, we are committed to working with our suppliers to identify production practices that negate the need for antibiotics, especially for prevention and control, but at the same time, we also recognize that some consumers desire products from animals that have been raised without antibiotics,” he said.

According to Hecker, Wendy's will work with its supply chain to understand and serve this consumer interest but will also continue to focus on animal health and well-being.

“We do recognize the realities of production, and what you won't see from Wendy's is a statement or a policy that makes a good headline but isn't actually feasible for people that are raising livestock,” Esposito said, adding that it is necessary, nonetheless, to recognize that consumers are looking for more information and assurance that production practices are being updated as often as they need to be.

“You won't see inflammatory statements from us without good scientific backing behind it," she said."The shared commitment that we ask for in return is to come with us on this journey and recognize that consumers aren't staying in the exact same place that they were 40 years ago.”

Esposito said the best beef comes from healthy, well-cared for animals.

“A sick animal needs to be treated, and you won’t hear differently from us.”

Food safety

On the subject of food safety and in light of the recent Chipotle foodborne illness outbreaks, Esposito offered some comments.

She said food safety is not a competitive issue; it's an issue for everyone.

“You don't ever want to differentiate your product on the basis of safety,” Esposito added. “Whenever you have an incident in the industry, you of course look at your own processes and say, 'Is there anything that we should be doing differently? Is there anything that we should be doing better?"

Wendy's protocol is not a static document that is developed and put on a shelf, she said, explaining that the company constantly makes evaluations to ensure that it is as safe as possible.

“You would never say you are 100% confident, because I think as soon as you get confident, you potentially have an issue,” Esposito warned. 

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