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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Georgia Makes Food Safety Changes – Real or Imagined? Is it just more public relations?

The Georgia House and Senate have both moved rapidly over the last several weeks to solve the public relations disaster that was the Peanut Corporation of American. In an effort to prop-up the nearly $2.5 Billion Georgia peanut industry which has lost millions of dollars over the last month, the legislature has passed both houses have passed SB 80 (http://www.legis.ga.gov/legis/2009_10/pdf/sb80.pdf).

Under the legislation, state agriculture officials would be required to craft rules establishing how frequently food processors must conduct testing. However, those manufacturers with a state-approved food safety plan would be exempt from the rules. The legislation reads:

“If an operator of a food processing plant, in its discretion, submits to the department a written food safety plan for such plant and such plan conforms to rules and regulations promulgated for purposes of this subparagraph, then such food processing plant shall comply with the requirements of such written food safety plan, including but not limited to any test regimen provided by such plan, in lieu of complying with a test regimen established by rules or regulations promulgated by the Commissioner pursuant to subparagraph.”

The legislation empowers the Georgia Department of Agriculture to order more tests at the processor’s expense – but, again, only if necessary:

“Such rules or regulations shall identify the specific classes or types of food processing plants, foods, ingredients, and poisonous or deleterious substances or other contaminants that shall be subject to such testing requirements and the frequency with which such tests shall be performed by food processing plants.”

However, there are time that certain companies may be required to test – “the Commissioner may order any food processing plant to have samples or specimens of its foods and ingredients tested for the presence of any poisonous or deleterious substances or other contaminants whenever in his or her determination there are reasonable grounds to suspect that such foods or ingredients may be injurious to health.” Those test results “shall [be] report[ed] … to the department within 24 hours after obtaining such information.”

So, what’s the bottom line? The Department of Agriculture will now draft regulations encouraging companies to craft food safety plans. If those plans are approved by the department, then the company does not have to test the products for pathogens. So, how many companies will have a plan so they will not have to test? (Guess what Peanut Corporation of America had one). What am I missing here?