Recalls, Grocers, FSMA and the Guilty Parties

Earlier this week, several publications including The USA Today and The Wall Street Journal reported on findings from the Centers for Disease Control relating to food safety which detailed that leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach and kale accounted are the guiltiest parties a caused the most food-borne illnesses nationwide from 1998 through 2008. Dairy products accounted for the most hospitalizations. The most deaths were linked to poultry. The study looked at 4,887 outbreaks that caused 128,269 illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths when the food that caused them was known or suspected.

Sure, shopping for lettuce can be fun, but is it safe?

Sure, shopping for lettuce can be fun,
but is it safe?

According to Patricia Griffin a food-borne disease expert at the CDC who was the senior author of the report the “The study isn’t meant to be a “risk of illness per serving” list for consumers. The statistics are meant to help regulators and the food industry target efforts to improve the safety of food.” She adds that “The vast majority of meals are safe, so don’t let the numbers for leafy greens keep you from eating vegetables.”

What does this have to do with retail grocers and the pending Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations?

Well, most of us purchase these products at our favorite grocery store. Simply put, we trust that our local grocer has taken good care to ensure that the food he or she is selling to us has been properly washed, dried, packaged, handled and stored and that it is safe to eat and of good quality. We, as consumers, have no way of ensuring this ourselves. This trust relationship is critical.  It’s why we chose a grocery store.

But retail grocers, according to Deloitte, executed an average of 117 recalls PER YEAR!

In addition to complying with the 2005 Bioterrorism Act which relates to recalls, grocers need to understand the potential impacts of the FSMA as well. On January 24, I blogged about a white paper from Food Safety expert Dr. John Ryan about what grocers should be doing today with regards to the FSMA.  You can find his article here.  I subsequently came across this excellent, brief Retail Impact of the FSMA summary by Leavitt Partners. It’s well worth the five minutes or less it takes to read.

I asked Jennifer McEntire, Senior Director, Food and Import Safety, how she would summarize what retailers should be thinking about the FSMA at this point.  She said, “From a practical standpoint, knowing who is in your supply chain, in this case, looking forward toward retail, and having confidence that they are following the rules is paramount.”As consumers, we want to maintain that trust relationship with our food providers. There are new tools and methodologies available to the industry to help further the cause of food safety and quality.  And, while the FSMA may not be primarily directed to retailers, as Jennifer points out, from a practical standpoint it’s essential for grocers to have complete confidence in their suppliers and confirm that they’re following the rules.As grocers are the captains of the cold chain, let’s encourage them to lead the way in addressing and implementing the rules.Kevin Payne
Senior Director of Marketing

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