Food recalls seem like a double-edged sword sometimes.
On the one hand, we want to know that our food is safe and we are not putting our family at risk when we cook or eat in a local restaurant.
On the other hand, there are just so many food recalls, especially for food we choose to eat regularly, such as romaine lettuce, that it can be scary. It puts our trust in the food supply to the test and makes us wonder what is safe for us to eat.
Having so many recalls can also cause people to ignore them, thinking they are either overblown or there is nothing they can do to avoid food with issues – – so they don’t bother trying.
So what do we do?
Who is Watching our Food?
We wonder who is watching our food supply through the entire path to our table so that this food contamination can be prevented.
Detective Foodsafe® understands learning that so many foods can contain contaminants which may harm us can be very upsetting but knows the importance of knowledge when it comes to our food safety.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the government agency responsible for informing consumers about the safety of the food supply and alerting us when foods are recalled and also ensuring that producers and manufacturers are doing what they should to prevent contamination.
In order to improve the way consumers get food recall information in a timely and thorough way, the FDA released a federal guidance document, entitled “Public Warning and Notification of Recalls,” to industry and FDA staff detailing the proper procedure .
Public Notice Guidelines
The FDA distributes its guidance — a statement that describes the agency’s interpretation of or policy on a regulatory issue — intended to educate industry and their own staff.
According to the FDA procedures for publishing guidance documents, a new guidance about food recalls was officially published in the Federal Register on February 8, 2019 and public comments were invited.
Their goal of this new guidance according to their own publication is: “…to increase and expedite the appropriate and accurate use of public warnings and public notification and to increase public health protection by better informing the public about violative products being recalled.”
Detective Foodsafe applauds all efforts to keep our food supply safe and notify the public when there is a breach in this process that could harm us.
Some of the changes that FDA included in this guidance include:
- Rules for whether manufacturers should inform the public of food safety breakdowns that lead to recalls.
- A timeline for food recalls and what information should be included in the warning.
- It outlines when the FDA will take action and issue a food recall warning if they believe that the voluntary recall from the manufacturer was insufficient to protect the public
- Explaining how the FDA will include food recall information on its web-based Enforcement Report available to the public
The FDA takes its role in keeping the public safe from food contaminants seriously. According to its Director, they plan to continue to provide leadership and expertise to educate the public to protect American families.
Detective Foodsafe warns that guidance documents do not establish any legally enforceable rights or responsibilities or bind the public to specific actions. They do correlate with the FDA’s current thinking on food safety and employees are expected not to act without justification if it departs from the guidance.
Fresh-cut Produce Draft Guidance
Another draft guidance issued by the FDA titled “Guide to Minimize Food Safety Hazards of Fresh-cut Produce: Draft Guidance for Industry” was announced in October 2018 on the Federal Register and seeks comments. The document is a draft only and not yet approved for implementation.
This document is intended for the industry, specifically those that manufacture, process, pack, or hold fresh-cut produce. Fresh-cut produce refers to any whole produce, fruit or vegetable, that is physically altered after harvest. It includes chopping, dicing, peeling, shredding, ricing, slicing, spiralizing, or tearing or processing, including processes as blanching. It does not include freezing, cooking, canning, or placing in a liquid such as dressing, juice or syrup.
Because fresh-cut produce has been linked with multi-state foodborne illness outbreaks, contamination of produce, both imported and domestic, through industry practices such as handling, packing, processing, temperature abuse, transport, and retail display requires a safe handling process to reduce the risk of contamination.
A Gap That is Hard to Close
Detective Foodsafe realizes, as do other experts and even consumers, there is currently a gap in compliance with safety standards that result in multi-state outbreaks of pathogens that can harm consumers. People have died as a result of foodborne contamination from produce, deaths that could have been prevented with proper food handling.
Many wonder why guidelines and regulations to force industry to practice food safety when growing, processing, transporting and selling our food take so long to implement and requires oversight for all players to do the right thing.
Multi-level draft guidance seeking industry and public comment seems to take more time than necessary before it becomes a final ruling able to be implemented and enforced. In the meantime, the health and safety of the public is compromised.
Testing for environmental pathogens, irrigating with potable water, training personnel, cleaning equipment and grounds, preventing temperature abuse, completing a hazard analysis/plan, and other practices should be standard operating business for those at every step in the food chain, including everyone who produces food for human consumption.
They should be doing these things now, instead of waiting for more guidance from the FDA.
Human lives are at risk.
What Does This Mean to Consumers?
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) mandates the FDA protect our food supply.
It gives them the authority to prevent food safety issues, not just react, by issuing food recall warnings when problems arise that can harm consumers.
The FSMA is designed to work together with industry to adopt processes and systems during food production that will reduce the risk of contamination of our food supply.
Consumers need to stay alert to what is happening at the federal level with respect to managing industry and compliance with food safety standards.
Learning about what what may seem to be daily food recalls that could potentially lead to foodborne illness for us and our families is important to protect ourselves when regulatory compliance doesn’t keep up with the spread of pathogens that infect us.
Consumers should be aware of the foods they may have in their pantries which could be contaminated and also practice safe food handling in their own kitchens.
Detective Foodsafe is on a mission to help you keep yourself and your family safe from the food you eat through information and practical tips you can take to avoid food safety mishaps that lead to food poisoning.