I am not going to state the obvious—we all know and agree that food safety is important and no one wants their product to be the next eggs, spinach or peanut butter recall! The best way to prevent a food-safety system breakdown is to be proactive and follow the FDA rules. All the guidelines are vaguely spelled out (on purpose, since interpretation varies from decade to decade) in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). All of Title 21 relates to food and, specifically, Part 110, which is entitled, “Current Good Manufacturing Practice in Manufacturing, Packaging, and Holding Human Food.” Anytime something goes wrong in our food supply, it can usually be traced back to someone not following The Rules or cutting corners. It doesn’t matter if it’s a huge food corporation or a small artisanal family owned company, bad things happen to good food that is not handled properly, and despite popular belief by many of my organic-loving, local-eating, free-range-worshipping Bay Area friends, pathogenic bacteria could care less if the cheese is made by Kraft or by an organic farmer in the Wynoochie River. If the temperature is right and the protein is there, it’s going to grow, thrive and make people sick.
Which is why I am happy that on Nov. 30, the U.S. Senate passed the “Food Safety Modernization Act” and, for the first time since 1938, we might have some meaningful food-law changes take place. Now, whether this bill will totally go through is still up in the air, but if it does, then the FDA will have mandatory recall authority, foreign importers will have to verify the safety of all food that they export into the United States, and, in general, the FDA will hire a lot more people to inspect facilities both in and out of the country. This makes me happy, because I am tired of reading about all the companies who screw up their quality and safety, don’t pay attention to the FDA warning letters, and continue to put bad product on the market. If the FDA would start busting more food companies (both big and small!) then perhaps those daily recalls that I read on Twitter (@foodsafety) might decrease.
There has been much talk about this bill over the past few months. Should smaller farmers be exempt (I don’t think so), and will the cost of regulation be so high that it will put farmers out of business? Will the bill even pass at this point with a procedural error?Last May, at the 2010 James Beard Awards, I had the grand opportunity to discuss food safety with none other than Andrew Zimmern, the host of “Bizarre Foods” on the Travel Channel. Andrew has eaten everything from termites to 18-day-old duck embryos to pit-viper ice cream, but has NEVER gotten sick on any of his culinary adventures. He told me all about it during our interview and made a surprising comment at the end!