When a food safety outbreak is first made known, speed is imperative.
A good traceback system allows potentially contaminated product to be pulled from the market, keeping consumers safe, and it allows product not implicated to remain in the marketplace, keeping consumers confident in the product.
However, in the aftermath of an outbreak, a more deliberate approach is needed to figure out what went wrong and how it can be fixed.
Quick, reactionary moves are often counterproductive.
We hope that, with this in mind, the announced hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee are filled with substance and not show.
In late October a bipartisan group from the committee sent a letter to Granada, Colo.-based Jensen Farms, requesting all documents and communications relevant to the investigation of the cantaloupe outbreak, which has killed 28 people and sickened 133 in 26 states.
It also requested a hearing with Jensen Farms’ owners.
While the Food and Drug Administration determined unsanitary conditions likely led to the listeria outbreak, it would be unwise for either the House or the produce industry to chalk this up to one bad player.
Serious questions are needed regarding the third-party inspection process that gave Jensen Farms a pass shortly before the outbreak began.
That’s not to say audits aren’t valuable. The key is to figure out what the right questions are and then ask them, both in audits and of auditors.
Investigations are only useful if the goal is solving problems and preventing similar problems next time.
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