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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Food Safety Assignment

This coming Saturday, I am off to Australia to give a series of speeches to government and industry on food safety and the legal implications. My first talk is in Queensland, where I will be speaking on “Class Actions Relating to Foodborne Illness in the USA.” My next series will be in Melbourne – “The Science and Law of Tracking Foodborne Illness” and “Pure and Wholesome: Is Food A Risky Business?”

Being gone for a bit “Down Under” made me think about the obvious and growing crisis in the safety of the US food supply, both domestic and imported. Over the years I have asked repeatedly that I be “put out of business.” Yet, business for my law firm has never been better. For example:

–  In the Fall of 2006, E. coli in lettuce in Utah nearly killed two young women, E. coli in spinach sickened hundreds nationwide and killed at least four, and Salmonella in tomatoes caused two outbreaks of hundreds each that went nearly unnoticed.

–  Valentines Day 2007 brought the recall of 180,000,000 jars of peanut butter and a landslide of lawsuits, including 30 class action lawsuits.

–  Spring 2007 arrived and showed us that recent meat industry efforts at improving meat safety have begun to erode, with 7,000,000 pounds of meat recalled and over 50 ill in several (seemingly) unrelated outbreaks across the country.

–  Then it was Salmonella in Veggie Booty, 700 sickened in Chicago from eating contaminated hummus, and now botulism in canned chili.

It all does make you wonder, as one Congressman quipped: “Who needs Al-Qaeda when you have got E. coli?”

I will not be gone long, and I will—to some folks’ dismay—still be connected. But while I am gone, why doesn’t the entire food chain—from “farm-to-fork”—think about ways to enhance the safety of the food supply, such as:

Growers:

  1. Develop and implement Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point-based systems (and if you can’t have HACCP on the farm, say HACCP-based);
  2. Conduct microbial testing on soils, water and product on a routine basis;
  3. Develop a product coding system down to the unit package level (bag, clamshell) allowing rapid trace back;
  4. Support mandatory regulation of the produce industry at Federal, State and local levels; and
  5. Support research to determine the critical values for the safety of food, water, air and soils in farming operations.

Manufacturers:

  1. Improve Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point systems;
  2. Create a culture of food safety and sanitation within the firm;
  3. Institute a profit sharing model to engage employees fully in the health and well-being of the organization;
  4. Require all suppliers of raw materials to have HACCP systems in place; and
  5. Audit yourself and your suppliers.

Restaurants:

  1. Train and certify managers and train employees in food safety;
  2. Create a culture of food safety within the firm;
  3. Provide frontline management with the authority, not just the responsibility, for food safety;
  4. Provide a line item budget for food safety; and
  5. Provide accessible health insurance for employees.

Regulators:

  1. Build win-win industry partnerships while maintaining autonomy to independently protect public health;
  2. Provide an outsourced system to maintain inspection schedules, shift cost to industry;
  3. Require all operators of all food-related businesses to have a valid, verifiable food safety management system;
  4. Develop and implement science-based auditing techniques moving away from the poke-and-sniff inspection models; and
  5. Apply risk assessment to identify high risk operations for more intensive interventions and strengthen surveillance.

Consumers:

  1. Support consumer activist organizations that base their platforms on science and public health protection;
  2. Become more knowledgeable about food safety;
  3. Use a thermometer when cooking and do not undercook or consume raw high-risk foods such as ground beef, seafood, and chicken;
  4. Demand that restaurants be graded for food safety and that the grades be posted; and
  5. Support your Federal, State and local government’s efforts in food safety regulation and vote for candidates that value public health protection.

I wish you the best on your assignments. And, remember, I will be 14 hours and 1 day ahead of you.

And, no, it is not a family reunion.

  • Nancy Luna

    And, don’t forget all the pet food recalls, too. Animals count, too.

  • Good luck with the jet lag. I see you advocaate various positions for growers on regulation. Bill, how do you stand on small farmers who want to be exempted from food safety regulation by virtue of the size of their operation?
    When you are in Australia, I wonder if there is much continuing concern that their import authorities so far haven’t found anything out of order with Chinese food imports. Are they falling down on the job Down Under?

  • jackkie

    This is a wonderful article. The things given are unanimous and needs to be appreciated by everyone.
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