Although the latest food recall represents less than 1% of Americans' egg consumption, this product recall has become the “Tipping Point,” to borrow the phrase from Malcolm Gladwell, for the future of U.S. food safety.
S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which passed the House of Representatives last year and has languished in the Senate, has been well and hotly debated by small and large farmers, food companies and trade associations. But the debate is over.
Consumers and the government have been very patient as certain sectors of the food industry, including farm groups, have lobbied for “self-regulation” on food safety issues — and frankly, I believe we have let all our stakeholders down. This latest food safety example is not about a freak natural occurrence (which most people will forgive), but rather as reported how one operator has, after many years of violations and fines, continued to produce food under conditions that are not acceptable.
The USDA has seen the opportunity to get S. 510 pushed through quickly and with little debate … and has pounced. They have rallied consumers, food companies and trade groups swiftly and efficiently; making one smirk that when under the ideal circumstances, they can make all the right moves.
High food safety standards are not debatable. It is the cost of entry for people who want to produce, manufacture, market and sell foods. Farmers' markets, homemade gourmet foods, school cafeterias and both larger and small farms and factories ALL must follow the best practices for food safety, and good manufacturing procedures. To suggest that someone producing a limited amount of foods in their home kitchen for sale should be excluded from strict regulations is as absurd as saying that all factory farms should be equally exempt.
In this era to be more local and more sustainable we are more at risk than in decades. Dairy farmers fighting to sell “raw milk” based on nutritional claims must put into place the proper technologies to protect their consumers. Pasteurization was developed for a reason — people died from drinking milk that contained unsafe organisms. Wannabe bakers must produce and package their cookies and cakes properly — and list all the nutritional, ingredient and claim information that large-scale producers have on their products. We must not take a step backward using the excuse of delivering the latest in vogue. The safety, and credibility, of our food supply is too important.
S. 510 would increase inspections on a risk-based approach and give to the FDA a new more powerful toolkit: new financial resources, the authority to shutter a plant that poses health dangers, and prompt recall power of suspected foods. It also would require all food companies to develop a food safety plan, and it would improve the safety of imported foods and food ingredients.
Can you really argue with that?
Phil Lempert is contributing editor of Supermarket News and CEO of The Lempert Report and SupermarketGuru.com. He is a well-known author, speaker and media personality focusing on topics such as consumer behavior, marketing trends and new products.