Peanut Butter Recall: FDA Shows Teeth Under the FSMA

You know it’s a big thing when our local newspaper finds space amongst all of the ads to print a story about food safety.  But there it was in yesterday’s morning paper: the FDA used new authority under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to suspended the registration of a peanut butter production facility.  The details of the story relating to salmonella contaminated peanuts can be found here. The tainted products were sold through a number of retailers including  Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Kilwins Quality Confections, and Target.  It’s a tragedy and its great that the FDA stepped in and shut the place down until issues are resolved.

FDA Shuts Down Peanut Butter Factory Using FSMA Powers

There are two key take-aways:

  1. Because of the FSMA, the FDA now actually has the authority to shut the violator down as opposed to recommending voluntary recalls (which was it’s limitation of authority prior to the FSMA).
  2. Retailers should be as supportive as possible to do anything they can to improve food safety and managing recalls. It’s their brand on the line when customers get sick from eating foods purchased at their store. (You’ll remember the names Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Target a lot longer than SunLand (the peanut butter company) after you’ve read this article.) We need to trust our grocers and we need to know that they’re taking all possible measures to protect our safety.

This is a good sign that progress is being made on implementing the FSMA, which was signed into law in January of 2011. It’s a law which will benefit consumers and, we believe, also will improve business across the industry.  According to an article in Food Safety News, “The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is still working “expeditiously” to implement major portions of the Food Safety Modernization Act.  We are working as expeditiously as possible to implement the food safety legislation we fought so hard for. When it comes to rules with this degree of importance and complexity, it is critical that we get it right.”

It is a complex law and it will take time to implement but many feel that, with the 2012 Presidential Election now behind us, things will pick up speed and producers, growers, shippers and retailers will need to focus more aggressively on addressing new traceability and food safety requirements.

The Food Safety News article explains that: The five major pillars of the FSMA will help pivot the nation’s food system from taking a more reactive to a more preventative approach to food safety. If they [the FDA] reduce foodborne illness rates by even a fraction, they have the potential to save Americans billions of dollars in healthcare costs every year.

Those five pillars — all still awaiting implementation — consist of the following:

– Preventive controls: FDA will require science-based preventive controls throughout the food system. This includes requiring food facilities to write preventive control plans, establishing minimum standards for safe production of fruits and vegetables and introducing regulation to help prevent intentional adulteration of food at vulnerable points in the food chain.

– Inspection and compliance: FDA has new authority to conduct inspections. FDA will inspect all high-risk domestic facilities every three years, have access to facility records and will establish a laboratory accreditation process for third-party testing laboratories.

– Response to violations: FDA will now have the authority to order food recalls – as opposed to recommending voluntary recalls as it does now – in cases of contamination. Farms will also be required to track their product and develop plans for how to issue recalls, though small farms that sell the majority of their product locally (within 275 miles) and sell less than $500,000 a year in product are exempt.

– Oversight of imports: Food importers must now verify that their facilities and preventive controls meet U.S. standards. FDA can now deny food from foreign facilities entry to the U.S. if the facility does not allow access to inspectors.

– Collaborative partnerships: Health agencies, both foreign and domestic, will work collaboratively to improve public health goals. FSMA provides FDA with a grant to develop state and local health agencies’ ability to improve food safety at a localized level. FDA will also develop a plan to help improve foreign industries’ ability to meet U.S. food safety requirements.

Addressing food safety regulations and traceability doesn’t have to be viewed as a cost of doing business but rather viewed as an opportunity. By combining a proactive approach to managing the supply chain – using pallet-level temperature monitoring – the industry can significantly reduce waste and generate more revenues and effectively get traceability for free.

If we work together, it can be a win-win. You can learn more about our solution for improving quality and traceability here.

Kevin Payne

Senior Director of Marketing

PS: If you’re interested in reading more about the FSMA, there’s a good summary here.


Hot News: Food Safety and Delivery Trucks

It was in many ways a hot week for news relating to food safety and food waste.  Part of this was fueled by the ongoing tragedy about cantaloupes and salmonella…this following on previous cantaloupe issues with listeria.  Then there was a recall for packaged salad mix relating to potential listeria issues.  I think America is waking up to the complexity of the cold chain and the challenges we face ensuring food safety and quality.

If we aren’t awake yet, then we should all watch this new video from NBC’s Today Show on Thursday, August 23.  This report from NBC’s Jeff Rossen is a follow up from a previous report earlier this year about how food shipped in supposedly properly refrigerated trucks in fact is being heated to temperatures of – in one case – 101°F!  This creates an environment for listeria, salmonella and e Coli to thrive.  The video shows all too graphically juice from thawed chicken parts dripping out of cartons and onto cabbage.  We used to hear about these things and swear that we would become vegetarians but, heck, as shown in the video, everything’s contaminated.

NBC Today Show image shows thawed chicken juice that leaked in a trailer whose refrigeration system wasn’t working.

What can be done about it?  Well, part of the problem is that it is nearly impossible to enforce proper temperature management in transit.  This is due in part to the police not having general authority to pull over trucks and arrest people for improper refrigeration and, even if they did, how would they check the massive numbers of reefers that traverse our highways every day?

Fortunately, temperature monitoring can help, but just having a single monitor in a trailer probably isn’t adequate as loads are moved around, pallets are reorganized and things can sit on loading docks.  Pallet-level temperature monitors, either built directly into the pallets or placed in with the product itself, can provide a temperature record from harvest to retailer or food service provider to document freshness and proper handling.  Monitoring pallets in this way would make it easy to identify when pallets haven’t been properly cooled in transit and perhaps help to reduce or eliminate health risks associated with improper handling.

And, fortunately, we’re seeing visionary retail grocers and restaurants starting to implement these tactics to ensure that they’re not selling tainted produce, meats and dairy items so there’s hope.

Kevin Payne

Senior Director of Marketing