As the Monterey County Herald reported today, the Food and Drug Administration has issued its first set of safety guidelines for the way fresh-cut produce companies process bagged salad, apple slices and cut celery sticks.
The release of the guidelines follows a scathing November letter in which the FDA urged fresh-cut producers to do more to protect consumers from food-borne illness outbreaks. Eight outbreaks have been traced to Salinas Valley lettuce and spinach in the past decade, according to the FDA.
The recommendations were developed with the help of the produce industry, the same manufacturers the FDA regulates. Unlike an FDA “farm-to-table” action plan released in 2004, the 64-page draft document focuses strictly on activities in processing facilities, particularly those involving workers’ hygiene.
From the article:
Bill Marler, attorney with Seattle’s Marler Clark law firm, which has represented clients against Odwalla, Jack-in-the-Box and Dole in food-borne illness cases, said the focus on worker hygiene in the guidelines is misplaced.
“I don’t recall any outbreak of any size that was caused by an ill worker,”
Marler said. The focus of the FDA, he said, should instead be on environmental conditions around farming fields, including the quality of water seasonally overflowing from nearby creeks and area wildlife.
The key to bringing an end to food-borne illness outbreaks related to fresh-cut produce, he said, lies in punishing businesses.
“If you’ve had repeated violations over and over and over again, or repeated outbreaks,” Marler said, “the real easy way to deal with it is fine them or shut them down. That’s within the purview of the FDA.”