Would a single food agency have stopped Salmonella peanut outbreak?

In apparent good news for the rest of the American food industry, the folks at Peanut Company of America appear to be douchebags acting on their own after Food and Drug Administration types on Friday said the Blakely, Ga., plant actually shipped Salmonella-positive products without even shopping for a second negative result.

The company has denied any wrongdoing in the salmonella outbreak linked to at least eight deaths and 575 illnesses in 43 states. The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation. More than 1,550 products have been recalled.

Also on Friday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the recall of salmonella-tainted peanut products shows the need to modernize the U.S. food safety system and ultimately create a single inspection agency.

“We need a single agency that’s working in a modern framework. We don’t have that today.”

The push for a single food agency is a political distraction: the only actions that matter are the ones that will reduce the number of sick people.

Will more inspectors make food safer?


An Associated Press story last night continues the fascination with all things political and the on-going, bureaucratic discussion about whether a single food inspection agency will improve food safety.

The story notes that in the two ConAgra contamination cases, it turns out that an FDA inspector hadn’t been to the company’s peanut butter plant in Georgia for two years before the recall, while a USDA inspector visits the Missouri pot pie plant daily.

If that’s the case, then maybe inspectors are the wrong focus here.

Bill Marler got it right yesterday when he wrote about the same AP story that,

Frankly, I am not sure a single agency, or the government for that matter (remember how well it did in Hurricane Katrina), will solve the problem of companies selling poisoned products to customers.  Perhaps when farmers, ranchers, shippers, middlemen of all sorts, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and restaurants all recall that customers could be their kid, they would put safety before profits.

I expressed a similar notion this morning in the Baltimore Sun.

"You can’t inspect your way to a safe food supply," said Douglas Powell, scientific director at Kansas State University’s International Food Safety Network. "You can’t have an inspector on every site 24/7 to inspect every piece of food that goes to market. You have to create a culture where everyone from the farm to the processing facility, people at restaurants, consumers at home are more in tune with the culture of food safety. People need to get really religious about this. Food safety is everyone’s responsibility."

How best to develop a food safety culture is where we’re focusing much of our research activity.

It’s certainly more than telling people,

"We have the safest food supply in the world,"

as Mindy Brashears, director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech University, did in the same Baltimore Sun story.