FROM FARM TO FORK: ADDITIONAL INVESTMENT IN RISK ASSESSMENT, MANAGEMENT IS KEY
The recent outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe, which caused at least 109 people to become ill and led to 21 deaths, has put the spotlight again on the food and related industries (grocers,restaurants, hospitality). Just in the last several months, we’ve had romaine lettuce recalls in 21 states, including New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. In August, Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey in the wake of a multi-state outbreak of the antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella, which was linked to the death of a 65-year-old Sacramento County woman. Then just one month later Cargill issued a voluntary recall of over 185,000 pounds of ground turkey after a test sample at an Arkansas facility tested positive for salmonella.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 3,000 Americans die yearly from food poisoning and 48 million are sickened. And according to the CDC, food poisoning cases caused by salmonella have increased by 10 percent in recent years, despite widespread campaigns to educate consumers and food makers about food preparation and handling. Most food manufacturers and farmers until recently were not required to prevent contamination from salmonella or other pathogens, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But in 2010 Congress gave the FDA sweeping authority to create a food safety system that would require food makers and farmers to prevent contamination from salmonella and other pathogens. The law will create the first-ever mandatory national safety standards for produce, requiring the FDA to conduct thousands of additional inspections each year. These inspections will function much like what is done in the restaurant industry to protect diners from getting sick. The new standards will compel the FDA to police farms and facilities where spinach, lettuce, and other crops are grown, washed, and packed. Food processors, farms, and warehouses will also have to take steps to prevent contamination and keep records of what they do. FDA inspectors will then verify whether they have complied. But it will take years to remake the system. And the rules won’t become mandatory at some sites until 2013. In the meantime, it’s incumbent on the food industry (including those involved in the Grocer, Restaurant, and Hospitality industries) to take additional actions, including investing more resources in prevention. In reviewing your food safety program, be sure you have taken the steps to develop an effective one, including:
- Determining where significant food hazards can occur.
- Identifying the critical control points in the process.
- Setting critical limits or procedures to control the hazards.
- Establishing procedures for using the results of monitoring to adjust the process and maintain control.
- Establishing corrective actions to handle control problems.
- Keeping accurate records and reviewing them regularly to ensure the controls are working.
- Checking the plan to make sure it’s working.