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FSMA May Not Be Known By Consumers By Name, Rather By Expectations

Oct 22, 2015

With final rule release, the media has officially put food producers and providers on notice

My daily Google News feed caught my eye with the recent CBS News headline, “New food safety rules issued in wake of deadly outbreaks.” And the piece begins, “Food manufacturers must be more vigilant about keeping their operations clean under new government safety rules released Thursday in the wake of deadly foodborne illness outbreaks linked to ice cream, caramel apples, cantaloupes and peanuts.” Sadly not even two weeks later this news was followed by the NBC News headline, “Three Dead, 558 Sick in Cucumber Salmonella Outbreak.” Consumers are likely shaking their heads thinking, “What’s Different?”

What is different is another headline that quickly followed the cucumber announcement, one that heralded a potential new level of vigilance regarding food industry professionals. Not only did the conviction and imprisonment of Stewart Parnell, former owner of the Peanut Corporation of America make headlines nationwide, food industry publications such as Food Safety News touted the opinion piece headline, “Guilty Verdict Puts Food Safety Responsibility Where It Belongs.” And in his opinion, author Richard Williams notes that FSMA was not the answer, rather, “This case proves that innovation like traceback technology (being able to find where a particular food was produced that made people sick) makes it possible for our legal system to punish those who knowingly cause food safety outbreaks. But avoiding prosecution is an added incentive on top of those that already exist.”

Damage to Peanut Corporation of America from peanut related salmonella outbreak included public shaming in US Congress

Damage to Peanut Corporation of America from peanut related salmonella outbreak
included public shaming in US Congress

In other words, FSMA’s final rule release did not make this conviction happen, technology did. After all, the case dates back to a 2009 salmonella outbreak, predating the FSMA rule release. And as Williams notes, identifying infectious sources is just the start of a potentially costly process that includes recalls, lawsuits, legal expenses, fines, loss revenue, and damage to brand value, the potential for prison sentences ups the ante substantially. CEOs in handcuffs is never a pretty sight.

While salmonella tainted cucumbers originated in Mexico (left), 
US outlets will potentially share responsibility and liability (right)
Sources: KRON4, Food Safety News

What FSMA does is increase public expectations that food contamination issues will be dealt with swiftly and those responsible will be dealt with firmly. While that may be an idealistic goal, personal as well as corporate accountability and responsibility will come under greater scrutiny and political as well as legal pressure.

Look for more on this ongoing topic including case studies regarding Temperature@lert’s fault-tolerant, cloud-based cellular temperature monitoring solutions for food producers, processors, distributors as well as retail outlets (grocers, convenience stores, restaurants, cafes and delis.) And above all, review your organization’s HACCP plan and performance, the first line of defense for both the consumer and the company.

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