(Nov. 1) Let he who has never broken the cold chain throw the first lawsuit.

This should be one maxim by which disputes over foodborne illness are resolved.

Yet so often, buyers want to push the blame back upstream to their suppliers without truthfully examining their own practices.

That much is evident after the release of a Food and Drug Administration study of food safety at retail, foodservice and institutions. The study examined compliance with FDA’s model food code, which has not been adopted by all states.

Perhaps the most galling statistic is that nearly half — 49.3% — of the 201 retail produce departments checked had improper holding times and temperatures. Talk about a gateway to illness!

Yet retailers are all too willing to put the blame on anyone but themselves.

Some more negative stats out of the produce department:

  • 44% of those retailers were out of compliance on standards for cleaning and sanitizing food contact surfaces and utensils.

  • 20% used contaminated equipment.

  • 14% posed chemical risks.

  • 1.9% had food from unsafe sources.

Obviously, America’s ultimate food sellers have work to do.

The FDA should expand the scope of the study to get a feel for how our nation’s retail environment affects public health.

With discovery and evaluation can come improvements in handling techniques. These improvements can — and should — be mandated upon retailers, much as the retailers mandate strict handling and safety compliance upon their suppliers.

It’s only fair that the retail community bear its portion of the food safety burden, especially since it is so apt to throw the first stone.