A little over two weeks ago, IBM released the results of a survey that it had conducted among adult grocery shoppers in the ten largest cities in the United States (100 in each city). The survey was intended to gather opinions about food safety issues, and what it found is as disappointing as it is not surprising. For example, less than 20% of consumers trust food companies to develop and sell food products that are self and healthy. Moreover, 60% of consumers are concerned about the safety of the food that they purchase. And the cause of this significant drop in trust? The rise in food recalls linked to contaminated and unsafe food products. According to the survey results, 83% of the people surveyed were able to name a food product that had been recalled in the last years, with nearly half (46%) naming peanut butter as a recently recalled product.

The irony here is that the rise in contamination-related recalls can be explained, in large part, by the drive for greater profits through: the use of cheaper ingredients purchased from suppliers willing to cut-corners (see, e.g. Peanut Corporation of America and its customer Kelloggs); the failure to update and maintain manufacturing facilities to ensure the highest standards of safety (see, e.g., Cargill and its peanut butter plant); insufficient product testing and quality control (see, e.g. Dole baged Spinach); and over-reliance on the consumer to cook the product "properly" as a means of making it safe, when it should have been safe to begin with (see, e.g., Banquet pot pies and Topps-brand and American Chef’s Selection brand frozen ground beef patties).  But by putting profits above safety, food manufacturers are trading short term gains for long term losses.  If consumers lose trust in manufactured food products, they will stop buying them.  Look, for example, at peanut butter sales, which still  have not recovered, and may never do so.

To read the full press release discussing the survey results, please click on Continue Reading.Continue Reading Consumer Trust in Food Safety in the U.S. Plummets Because of Rise in Recalls

 Today’s recall of Nestle cookie dough got me thinking about other E. coli O157:H7 cases that we’ve recently handled.  John McDonald was a 5-year-old boy who we represented in a ground beef outbreak that occurred in 2007.  Unfortunately, John’s illness was about as bad as an illness can get without causing a death.  (it is unbelievable how many times I find myself saying that about our clients) 

John was hospitalized at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital from October 4 through 12, then was transferred to the University of Tennessee Medical Center where he remained until October 29.  During his hospitalization, John’s kidneys failed requiring extensive dialysis to cleanse his blood, and he became badly anemic requiring many blood transfusions.

But these conditions, though in and of themselves potentially lethal, were just the beginning.  What truly separates John’s illness from most of the hemolytic uremic syndrome illnesses that we see was the extent of injury to his gastrointestinal tract. 

Jim McDonald, John’s father, was present at the moment it became apparent just how severe John’s illness was.  It occurred in the early morning hours of Thursday, October 11, 2007.  He recalls: 

As usual, I got up to help as much as possible when the nurses came in and woke us up. When we opened his diaper, I got excited since it looked like he had had dark brown diarrhea, which told me that his digestive system was finally starting to kick in again. Realizing how liquidy the diaper was, we turned on an extra light to help us while changing him.

Continue Reading Cookies and E. coli: Here’s an E. coli story we will never forget

A tip of the meat-thermometer to Herb Weisbaum for an excellent column on how stores could to a better job of notifying customers about recalled products.    Mr. Weisbaum points out that stores are the last line of defense in our food safety system.  He also points out that they often fail. 

California State Senator Dean Florez

There has for a long time been valid criticism of food recalls, both with regard to how agencies like the FDA implement them, and whether recalls really work to prevent foodborne illness.  In my view, most recalls are best described as closing the barn-doors after the horses have escaped.  But that said, when a food product is determined to be contaminated, there is no avoiding the need to try to remove the product from the market.  That means recalls are necessary.  It also means that recalls need to be effective as possible at limiting the spread of foodborne disease. According to a great and interesting new study out of Rutgers’ Food Policy Institute, it appears that recalls are anything but effective in prompting necessary public action.  For example, in a survey of over 1,100, the study found that only about 60 percent of the studied sample reported ever having looked for recalled food in their homes, and only 10 percent said they had ever found a recalled food product.

This is a disturbing finding, because, unless we can reliably count on the public to take the actions necessary to prevent the spread of foodborne disease, we may be assuming that recalls work when, in fact, they do not.  This study thus deserves to be read carefully by public health officials, and additional research definitely seems to be needed.

The full study can be found here: www.foodpolicyinstitute.org/docs/news/RR-0109-018.pdf

To read the full press release announcing the study, please hit the Continued Reading link.

Continue Reading Recalls Found to be Even Less Effective Than Expected

produce recallsKeith Warriner  from the University of Guelph commenting on recent recalls and questioning where Canidian’s food comes from:

Part of the problem is the fact that Canada gets as much as 80 per cent of its produce from California, where health officials have warned growers three times in the last three years about their growing