KANSAS CITY — In a federal courtroom in Albany, Ga., three former employees of the Peanut Corporation of America (P.C.A.) are on trial for knowingly shipping Salmonella-tainted products to customers and falsifying laboratory tests that showed the products were contaminated. If convicted, the defendants may face significant prison terms.
“Peanut trial shows food safety relies on honor system,” read a headline published Aug. 16 in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The story outlines the case against the defendants in the P.C.A. trial, but also highlights the slow pace of change taking place under the Food Safety Modernization Act (F.S.M.A.). Notably, the story shows how much responsibility rests on the shoulders of food manufacturers to ensure the safety of the food products being processed.
That is the way it should be, but to the public at large there is the belief that a food safety “police force” must be engaged in order to ensure safety. There is also the perception among some that “big businesses” will cut corners in order to maximize profits at the expense of customers.
Yet when viewed in total, the North American food and beverage industry’s food safety track record is exemplary. That is not to say it cannot be improved, but a focus on continuous improvement ensures that as new information and technologies become available it will be reviewed and implemented where necessary.
Promoting positive news and educating consumers about such topics as food safety is difficult. We live in a culture where the media’s focus most often tends to be on the negative. The conclusion of the P.C.A. trial is going to be one such negative event and generate significant attention on the industry’s food safety practices.