Shirley you can’t be serious; food safety wonks speak

Canadian actor Leslie Nielsen may have died Sunday, but the slapstick continues to flow from Washington.

On the same day the Senate passed its version of a food safety bill, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave ‘Salmonella Jack’ DeCoster permission to once again sell eggs at retail.

As a consumer, am I supposed to have faith that FDA has checked out DeCoster’s operations, and even more faith that FDA may soon have more tools at their food safety disposal?

What if I want to avoid DeCoster’s eggs, because he has a bad track record and will soon be slip-slidin’ away to the lowest common denominator?


Sure, buy organic/natural/local/sustainable, but that’s got nothing to do with the kind of microbiologically safe food I’m looking for. Big egg farms don’t mean dirty egg farms.

Why not unleash the power of food safety marketing and let consumers choose at retail.

Repeated outbreaks have shown that all food is not safe: there are good producers and bad producers, good retailers and bad retailers. As a consumer, I have no way of knowing.

Tell consumers about salmonella-testing programs meant to reduce risks; put a URL on egg cartons so those who are interested can use the Internet or even personal phones to see how the eggs were raised. Boring press releases in the absence of data only magnify consumer mistrust.

Food producers should truthfully market their microbial food safety programs, coupled with behavioral-based food safety systems that foster a positive food safety culture from farm-to-fork. The best producers and processors will go far beyond the lowest common denominator of government and should be rewarded in the marketplace.

Government has a role, but there are too many outbreaks and too many sick people. It’s time for producers, retailers and restaurants to market microbial food safety and compete using safety as a selling point.

Marketing food safety at retail has the additional benefit of enhancing a food safety culture within an organization – if we’re boasting about this stuff I guess we really better wash our hands and keep the poop out of food. Maintaining a food safety culture means that operators and staff know the risks associated with the products or meals they produce, know why managing the risks is important, and effectively manage those risks in a demonstrable way. In an organization with a good food safety culture, individuals are expected to enact practices that represent the shared value system and point out where others may fail. By using a variety of tools, consequences and incentives, businesses can demonstrate to their staff and customers that they are aware of current food safety issues, that they can learn from others’ mistakes, and that food safety is important within the organization.

But, on to the nosestretchers:

“This is authoritarian stuff we are dealing with–agents able to march in and rummage through your business materials without even having to wave a search warrant–so you’ve got to be nimble, and creative. Food producers in places like Rumania, Poland, Russia and Cuba have had lots more practice than we have, so it’s time to do some catch-up.”
The Complete Patient writes in a piece titled, If You’re in the Food Business, Better Begin Preparing Now to Avoid the FDA SWAT Teams.

“This legislation means that parents who tell their kids to eat their spinach can be assured that it won’t make them sick.”
Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa who, as chairman of the Senate health committee, shepherded the legislation through months of negotiations.

Glenn Beck suggested that the measure was a government ruse to raise the price of meat and convert more consumers to vegetarianism.

“This is history folks, watch live on CSPAN.”
“Tallying the votes… the suspense is killing me.”
“The Senate has surpassed the number of votes needed to pass the most sweeping change to food safety laws in 7 decades.”

A variety of bloggers functioning as stenographers

"Size correlates directly with risk. When we have the kind of E. coli outbreaks we’ve got where it impacts many, many, many states and thousands of families, that’s risk. When we’ve got a producer that’s raising lettuce that’s looking at the guy who’s going to eat it right square in the eye, that’s a different level of risk entirely."
Sen. JonTester

Most apt statements:

“Senate passes S. 510 Food Safety Modernization Act after Dierksen cafeteria offers imported steak tartare and raw spinach lunch special.”
Chris Clayton, blogger

"If this bill was on the books, it wouldn’t have changed anything about the recall. Our own standards are already higher."
ConAgra Foods spokesman Jeff Mochal