Major American food manufacturer ConAgra was slapped with the US’s largest criminal food safety fine on December 13, 2016. ConAgra has been ordered to pay an $8 million fine and $3.2 million in asset forfeiture for shipping Peter Pan peanut butter infected with Salmonella. This outbreak occurred in 2006-07 and affected at least 700 people in 44 states. Thankfully no one died from this outbreak, but approximately 140 people were hospitalized.
While it feels good to know the FDA is still looking out for public health, most of us would like to see food safety problems solved before people get sick, or even die. Sure, if your Uncle Nick’s holiday tradition includes chowing down on a “Cannibal” or Tiger Meat Sandwich, he has no one to blame but himself—E. Coli, Campylobacter, and Listeria can be pretty easily wiped out by just a few minutes in the skillet. But no one should be expected to fry their PB&J to 160 deg F prior to snacking.
The best front line of defense against pathogen-infected food is for manufacturers to run a tight ship. Facilities need to be clean, and quality assurance relies more than ever on testing labs with good equipment and dependable people. Ethical management cannot be understated, as seen in the Peanut Corporation of America case, when infected products were shipped with knowledge, sickening over 700 people and killing 9.
Food manufacturers need to value their reputation over their bottom line — and most of the time they do. For those that slip, fingers crossed that the FDA and USDA don’t hesitate to make them pay the price.
[Photo credit: Denise Krebs, CC BY 2.0]