LAS VEGAS — Retailers could see new food safety legislation or stricter enforcement of current regulations this year, according to panelists at the National Grocers Association's annual convention here last week.
Reflecting on the recent salmonella outbreak resulting from tainted peanut butter, John Kolenski, director of food safety and regulatory compliance, corporate food technology, for Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., said he thinks some new regulation could be in the works.
“President Obama said his daughters like peanut butter, and he was not pleased with the role of the Food and Drug Administration in [that situation], so we will probably see some legislation in the second half of this year,” he said. “Over the last 18 months there have been more than 100 pieces of legislation introduced in Congress regarding food safety, so I would anticipate something very robust [to be proposed] that will be more detailed and more burdensome to the industry.”
In contrast, Wil Sumner, director of food and agricultural testing for Scientific Certification Systems, Emeryville, Calif., who spoke at the same workshop, said he doubts any new laws will be passed, “but I think we might see more effective enforcement of laws already on the books.”
“The FDA is so understaffed, it only has enough personnel to audit every U.S. company once every five years, and the administration has talked about setting up partnerships with state authorities or accredited third-party auditing companies to work on improved enforcement,” he said.
Kolenski said Kroger has very strict internal procedures for educating personnel, auditing store-level performance and measuring the results to make sure its stores are in compliance with food safety laws.
When Kroger becomes aware of a product recall or other food safety-related problem, “we notify customers through our loyalty card program by printing a note on their checkout receipts telling them they may have purchased a product subject to recall and suggesting they check on the batch number when they get home.”
Kolenski said Kroger has also begun testing a program in which it places phone calls to alert customers to a recall.