Bill Marler is traveling to Washington, DC today to support victims of three recent foodborne illness outbreaks as they give testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.  Marler provided written testimony for the subcommittee, highlighting eight steps he feels could greatly improve food safety. 

They are:

  1. There exist two “best practices” in meat that should be extended to produce. Following the Jack in the Box crisis, the head of the USDA’s Food and Safety Inspection Service took a regulatory and systems approach to food safety. That “hero” was Michael Taylor. Taylor declared that raw ground beef that is contaminated with E. coli would be classified and treated as “adulterated” within the meaning of the Federal Meat Inspection Act. Taylor also introduced a mandatory Risk Management System. The required meat processors to adopt comprehensive precautions. Those included carcass washes, citric acid sprays, steam pasteurization and air-exchange systems. Following Taylor’s example, we must serve notice to produce and other food processors that E. coli, salmonella, etc. will be classified and treated as adulterants. In addition, the same kind of comprehensive Risk Management System must be established and implemented. Penalties must be criminal and civil. When these best practices are adopted, firms will have to certify that not only they, but that every aspect of their supply chain, also are in compliance. Branding can and should reflect this certification of both the firms and their suppliers. This would be a new kind of “Seal of Approval.” This “Seal of Approval” can also apply to such issues as the location of produce fields near animal farms, what kinds of procedures are used, and the method of irrigation as well as the type of water used.
  2. We need the same kind of food safety champion that Taylor was. This person would be a highly visible symbol of our commitment. Along these lines, it is useful to consider consolidating responsibility in one federal-level agency. That would be the central point for communication about best practices and the point of contact for state and local regulators and health departments.
  3. The track record of business for issuing warnings and recalls rapidly isn’t good. The federal and state governments should have authority to recall food products. That means increased funding, particularly at the state level. Most outbreaks are regional, not national.
  4. Produce an E. coli vaccine for cows. I would say that the lion’s share of produce problems result from this contaminant passed on through cow feces.
  5. The nation requires education about the benefits of irradiation of all mass-produced food including produce. Resistance to this practice seems to be rooted in public perception, not science.
  6. Attention has to be paid to the vulnerability of our food supply system to acts of terrorism. Denial and lack of common sense seem to dominate thinking at all levels – business and federal and state government.
  7. Why haven’t we applied our economic and political muscle to imposing more stringent regulations on food imports? This is a central trade issue that has been neglected.
  8. There’s an urgent need to improve the resources available to foodborne disease victims. At the top of the list are the out-of-pocket medical costs. Those are usually not immediately or even eventually reimbursed by medical insurance if victims have coverage. By time compensation comes from litigation, individuals are sometimes heavily in debt. Next on the list is the expense of missing work. Marler Clark has been encouraging food processors and retailers to provide this help as a gesture of goodwill.