Is FSMA Working?

June 23, 2013

The Food Safety Modernization Act gave the FDA the power to mandate recalls.  In the past the FDA would go to the company whose product was making people sick and try to cajole, threaten or shame them into doing the right thing.

Now with the power which for years they begged, the FDA fails to do the right thing.  In early May, a berry mix from Townsend Farms was identified as the source of a Hepatitis A outbreak.  At the time it seemed like all of the parties involved were moving in slow motion.  Neither Townsend Farms nor the two retailers involved, Costco and Harris Teeter were doing anything.  This was the perfect time for the FDA to do their job, to protect American consumers from food-borne illness, but they do nothing.

On June 4th, Townsend Farms finally issues a voluntary recall.  As of today, ninety-nine people are or were sick with Hepatitis A.  This number might be significantly lower if the FDA had done their job and used their power to mandate recalls given them by FSMA.

At the beginning of the last century, there was the Pure Food and Drug Act.  The Food Safety Modernization Act was supposed to be this century’s building on the legacy.  Instead we see the FDA floundering and FSMA bogged down in fights over funding.


You Can Kill Somebody

October 7, 2012

Yesterday’s post by Bill Marler really brought home the idea that failing to do the right thing could kill somebody.  The attorney and food safety advocate made the  connection between the death  of a tiny baby boy and someone at a cheese company  not doing their job.  The baby had died from the complications of his extremely premature birth.  The premature birth was induced by his mother’s listeriosis infection.  She had eaten listeria contaminated cheese.

 When you read the FDA or CFIA report following a food safety disaster you find that somebody just didn’t do their job.  The FDA finds cantaloupes are left sitting in dirty water at Jensen Farms and hens and their eggs are surrounded by salmonella laden feces at Wright County Egg.  In Canada at Maple Leaf Foods, CFIA finds a slicer coated with listeria.  The procedure called for the frequent cleaning of this slicer.  Unfortunately no one was checking to see if this was being done and even worse no one knew how to take the slicer apart.

Never in these investigations does it turn out to be one employee or a small group, it’s always the company’s management’s failure to do the right thing – to put in systems to assure proper cleaning, systems to assure that equipment is properly inspected, systems to assure employees are trained properly.

 During the investigation the FDA or CFIA investigator asks to see the person that is in charge of food safety and then a middle aged, middle manager degreed in food science or one of the natural sciences is pushed out.  The only people, he or she has authority over is the small team of technicians they manage.  Never when the question is asked does the CEO step up and say I’m the one that is responsible for food safety her.  I’m the one that if they don’t lead this company in the right way it could make a product that kills somebody.

The Obama Administration Could Do Something Monumental For Food Safety

September 2, 2012

According to the Obama administration, as they cut off the funds to the Microbiological Data Program, that program that finds salmonella and listeria on produce saving thousands of people from getting sick and possibly hundreds from dying, the core mission of the USDA is to facilitate the competitive and efficient marketing of agricultural products.  That being said, this administration now has the opportunity to do something monumental for food safety and possibly save some money at the same time.  Take all responsibility for food safety that the USDA has and give it to the FDA.  The FDA is already responsible for the safety of 80% of food products.  Make them responsible for 100%.  It’s all about focus.  Let the Department of Agriculture focus on improving and promoting agriculture.  Let the FDA focus on the safety of our foods and drugs.

Every administration wants to save money.  The FDA and the USDA each get about a billion dollars for food safety.  Save 500 million dollars, give the FDA $1.5 Billion and do something monumental for food safety.