Natural Foods Merchandiser

Limitations in food safety

In recent years, consumers have seen salmonella-contaminated peanut butter, E. coli in their spinach and tainted meat, speakers said during Saturday’s session “What’s the Fuss about Food Safety.” “It’s understandable that consumer confidence is at a low,” said Caren Wilcox, former executive director of the Organic Trade Association who now operates her own strategic advisory business. Wilcox and three other panelists addressed limitations with our current system.

“In the past it was easy to blame food-borne illness on the chicken salad at the church picnic,” Wilcox said. “Today, the states and Centers for Disease Control can trace illness to actual products.” But the speakers said even with advanced technology, there are weaknesses within the Federal Drug Administration, the organization that’s supposed to keep these foods from reaching consumers.

The agency only investigates manufacturers every 10 years, there’s very little oversight, and the current law is without major amendments, Wilcox said. However, pending legislation addresses some of these challenges.

Those issues led to the perfect storm during the Peanut Corporation of America’s 2008 salmonella outbreak that resulted in 700 illnesses in over 46 states, said speaker Denis Stearns, one of the founding partners of the Marler Clark law firm, which focuses on representing persons injured by unsafe food products.

“Most recalls are voluntary,” Stearns said. “The industry will say they’ve never failed to make a requested recall but you have a long time frame between when a product is identified as being contaminated and the actual recall. By that time, most of those products have been ingested.”

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