Food safety protocols under fire in the US

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 30th January 2009

As the second major food recall in the US within a year continues to expand, food industry bodies and consumer groups are calling for change.

The current peanut butter Salmonella scandal in America has led to over 500 illnesses already and has been linked to eight deaths. Overnight, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the recall to include all products produced by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) at its Blakely, Georgia processing plant since January 1, 2007.

Products produced by the PCA are not sold directly to consumers but instead to manufacturers who use them is a wide range of products from biscuits to cereals and ice cream. The FDA has been working with the company and purchasers of PCA’s peanut butter and peanut paste to identify affected products and facilitate their removal from the market. FDA and state officials have visited almost 2100 firms who purchased PCA products, part of an arduous task to track the ingredient supply chain of those products to facilitate their removal from the marketplace.

The food regulator suggested that PCA knowingly sold contaminated products after internal testing reportedly showed Salmonella present in some of their products.

Amidst the growing number of recalls and increasing number of illnesses is a call for greater funding and power to be provided to the FDA. Many are suggesting the speed of recalls and the traceability of the food supply chain is fair, at best, with the current case following that of last year’s jalapeño salmonella scare. The jalapeño case was initially blamed on tomatoes and over 1000 had fallen ill before the true culprit had been found.

Change could be in the air, though, with a bill proposed yesterday to increase the powers of the FDA. The idea has been well received by many of the food industry bodies, many of whom have been seeking changes for well over a year, although they are displeased by a possible requirement for the food industry to cover the costs of increased safety inspections.

President Obama has also criticised the current process, and promised changes to food safety legislation while on the campaign trail last year. “Far too often, tainted food is not recalled until too late. When I am president, it will not be business as usual when it comes to food safety,” he advised.

Just exactly what needs to be done and what will be done remain in question. One thing is certain, however, Brand America will suffer if food safety scandals persist.