by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-safety

Nov 6 2007

More about the new food safety plans

The FDA has released its version of the new food safety plans for imported foods. It has established a Food Protection Plan web site, an Import Safety site, and a new plan for food protection. These are linked to the import safety plan mentioned in yesterday’s posting. It’s still difficult to figure out how all this will work in practice but the idea seems to be to require countries that export foods to us to certify their exporters and allow U.S. inspectors on site. And the FDA will be allowed to order recalls. What a concept! Some progress, but will it do the trick?

Nov 5 2007

The President’s Safety Panel: Rumors

I hear rumors from reporters that President Bush’s Food Safety Panel is to announce its recommendations tomorrow. Rumors are that there are four:

1. Give the FDA the authority to recall safe products (recalls now are voluntary).

2. Increase the number of inspectors in countries that export to the U.S.

3. Certify firms with proven records of food safety.

4. Focus resources on riskier products.

Without having seen the Panel’s report, it’s hard to comment but if this is really all there is, it isn’t much. Recall authority and more inspectors are obvious needs. But what about farm-to-table food safety standards, with testing and enforcement? What about a single food safety agency? What about more inspectors at our borders? And why do we need a certification program. Every company involved in food production should be thoroughly engaged in safety procedures. If they don’t produce safe food, they should not be allowed to remain in business. Let’s see what the report really says. Stay tuned.

Oct 27 2007

ConAgra’s Peanut Butter Recall: the story

CIO, the magazine for corporate Chief Information Officers, has an interesting report on this year’s recall of Peter Pan peanut butter. It’s written from the standpoint of company data managers, the folks responsible for setting up tracking systems for product recalls. Fine, but what about food safety systems?

Oct 16 2007

Can the food industry police itself?

The Wall Street Journal, that increasingly surprising newspaper, wants to know whether whether food companies can be expected to police their own food safety procedures. Hardly, says the excellent writer of yesterday’s article, Jane Zhang. “…this system of ‘preventive controls’ has worked in the past only with adequate regulatory enforcement and industry support–neither of which is guaranteed.” She quotes Mike Taylor, a former official in FDA and USDA: “The reason you have regulation is some companies don’t have the market incentive to meet high food-quality standards…the public doesn’t trust a system that leaves it entirely to the industry.” Indeed. If the Wall Street Journal thinks we need better food safety regulation, maybe its time has come?

Oct 15 2007

Food safety yet again

In yesterday’s New York Times, Andrew Martin says he’s gotten used to the idea that hamburgers can make people sick but it never occurred to him to worry about frozen dinners. Until now. Customers who got sick from eating ConAgra pot pies contaminated with toxic Salmonella were told it was their own fault. They should have done a better job of following the directions for cooking the pies. Martin convincingly demonstrates the absurdity of that idea. If you want to eat frozen meals, he says, you had best zap them to pieces and use a thermometer. But why not argue that ConAgra should do a better job of making safe products in the first place? Hasn’t the company ever heard of HACCP? Why isn’t it following standard food safety procedures to keep harmful microbes out of food? If ever there was a situation ripe for a lawsuit, this one is it. I’m not the only one who thinks so, apparently. The lawyers are already on the case. It should be an easy win.

Sep 23 2007

Food safety advocacy

Today’s question: “Dr. Nestle, any suggests of a group fighting listeria/listeriosis to fund? Given your expert stature, you are my best source. ..My father was Dxd [diagnosed] with this around May 1 after being admitted to hospital apr 19 – But the suffering from it and cost of it – what if my mom hadn’t had a spare $100,000 – unbelievable. And I am sure insurance covered another million or so. In 5 mos.”

Here’s my thought: Listeria are among those newly emergent bacteria that arrived along with industrial food production. They are especially nasty because they grow happily at cold temperatures. I’m not aware of groups specifically devoted to fighting this one, but there are excellent groups working on food safety issues in general. One is STOP–Safe Tables Our Priority–created by mothers of children who died from the effects of eating hamburgers contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7. The food safety issues are the same. Both bacteria would be less of a problem if we had a better food safety system. But let’s ask: does anyone know of any groups working specifically on Listeria issues?

Sep 21 2007

Today’s must read: the spinach recall, 1 year later!

USA Today’s star science reporters, Elizabeth Weise and Julie Schmit, have produced an extraordinary investigative report on last year’s spinach recall. They see improvements in America’s food safety system as a result, but question whether these are nearly enough. I think this is great reporting. Take a look!

Sep 18 2007

Uh oh. Another salad scare

This time it’s E. coli in bagged salads from Dole. I recently visited the packing plant where the contaminated spinach originated a year ago and could not believe the state-of-the-art testing and holding prodedures that company put in place. Everybody needs to be doing this sort of thing. This is why federal regulations, imperfect as they are, so badly need to be instituted.