Service of a Glacial Pace When it Comes to Food Safety: Key Word–Preventable

September 24th, 2015

Categories: Food, Food Safety, Laws


Even advocates of the Slow Movement might agree that it’s taken far too long for the Food and Drug Administration to create and implement rules for the five year old Food Safety Modernization Act. Congress passed the act, wrote Jesse Newman, “after a wave of deadly outbreaks in the past decade stemming from contaminated fruit, spinach, peanut butter and other products.”

So hurry up, already, before someone else gets sick and/or dies!

With the new rules, the feds can take action before—not after—foods are found to be tainted. Newman added that manufacturers will have to “detail in writing” their food-safety steps. But don’t breathe sighs of relief just yet. According to Newman, food companies large and small have until 2018 to comply, though the larger ones must move more quickly.

And then there’s insufficient funding. More about that later.

Food safetyIn “FDA Tightens Its Food-Safety Rules,” Newman wrote: “About 48 million people, or one in six Americans, get sick each year from foodborne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 die annually.”

Those made ill from tainted peanut butter who are still alive might find solace in this week’s Associated Press [AP] headline “Ex-Peanut Exec gets 28 Years in Prison for Deadly Salmonella Outbreak.” The executive, Stewart Parnell, was the owner of Peanut Corporation of America. According to the AP, this was “the stiffest punishment ever handed out to a producer in a foodborne illness case. The outbreak in 2008 and 2009 killed nine Americans and sickened hundreds more, and triggered one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.”

PeanutsParnell knew that he’d shipped contaminated peanut butter, the federal jury determined. The AP reported that Judge W. Louis Sands said, “‘These acts were driven simply by the desire to profit and to protect profits notwithstanding the known risks.”

The killer is that these incidents needn’t happen. “Largely preventable” were the words the FDA deputy commissioner for food and veterinary medicine used in Newman’s article. The reporter mentioned the latest listeria outbreak in ice cream that killed three people and the fact that “Blue Bell neglected practices that might have prevented listeria contamination.” And then there were the Mexican cucumbers that contained salmonella and lately made people sick in 30 states.

PreventableBut there’s another snag: Insufficient funding. The FDA says it needs $260 million to implement the rules but House and Senate appropriations bills for 2016 are under $100 million. Maybe they can take some money from health insurers who have to pay the hospital and medical bills of people who didn’t have to get sick in the first place.

Given that members of Congress and the FDA and their families eat food, and we clearly can’t depend on manufacturers to take the right steps on their own, I’m puzzled at the sluggish pace they’ve agreed to to avert preventable, potentially life-threatening measures. And you? Is there a better way? Have you ever been made sick by tainted food? Isn’t it incredible that due to lack of responsibility of so many we even need such regulations?

vintage family eating dinner

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4 Responses to “Service of a Glacial Pace When it Comes to Food Safety: Key Word–Preventable”

  1. hb Said:

    I buy your point. The food industry is in a mess and in far more ways than just the extent to which what it sells is disease tainted. Consequently, fixing it is far more complicated and will take much more time and money than just trying to improve disease prevention controls.

    By the way, who is going to pay for all this disease prevention? I assume that consumers will, because the rich certainly are not about to, and they run the show — that is the giant corporations which produce most of the food and dominate and control almost all aspects of food distribution.

    The middle class and the poor are already beaten down by direct and indirect taxation, and the accelerating decline in economic opportunity and the availability of other than just menial work. They won’t buy any dramatic increase in the cost of what they eat.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    This is a harsh thought but one thing that might happen is for a congressman or woman or FDA executive to lose a family member to tainted food. It’s also improbable that even this will put a fire under anyone to clean up the situation given what is happening with gun control–nothing, no matter how horrendous or tragic, budges this issue a whit. All the articulate and bereft parents, wives, husbands and siblings of those shot haven’t made a dent.

    As for rising food prices: The public will do without, I’m afraid, as nobody cares when the price of milk, meat or other staple skyrockets. It just does and consumers buy it or they don’t.

    As I noted in my post, the insurance industry might come up for air to toss in some coin as poor nutrition leads to all sorts of preventable ailments for which they often end up paying the bill. I can always dream.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    China deals effectively with those who profit at public expense: Execution. Assuming Western society finds a similar solution, there is still no way food consumption on so large a scale as ours can be controlled. Someone is going to be poisoned through his or a hosts carelessness, small suppliers will be able to work under the radar, and etc. Sometimes bad things happen through an unforeseen chemical reaction. And then there is the malicious soul who sneaks in poisons which kill.

    So now the FDA tightens its rules. What are those millions going to pay for? Policing? Testing? Passing legislation should cost nothing more than congressional time. Unfortunately, the American way is to throw money at a malfunction, in hopes it goes away, rather than making the effort to see that errors are corrected and things are made to work.

    Both a friend and I were hit by a memorable dose of ptomaine poisoning over 60 years ago. We were riding on the same train, ate the same food, and had no idea either was struck until much later. Friend nearly died. I was luckier, but still in a great deal of pain. Regulate until the cows come home, there are no guarantees this can’t happen today.

    What rankles is that Parnell appears to have known that people could die from this product. Why wasn’t he tried for murder and sentenced accordingly?

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    As for Parnell or any of those who knowingly skipped steps in production that are proved to avert problems, severe penalties are in order. I was surprised he got only 28 years in jail and that his was the severest of all tainted food-related penalties to date!

    I can only guess what the costs are to implement these rules, but you hit on them with policing being the most expensive as people who are specially trained would be constantly sent to plants all over the country–travel– and since it is government related, the paperwork and countless forms enough to choke a horse, vetted or written by lawyers, stored in warehouses as well as on computers, special computer programs written, tests given…and on and on.

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