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SPECIAL EDITION IV:
Salmonella/Tomato Crisis
Creates Collateral Damage

Does FDA Lack Faith In Produce?

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, June 12, 2008

We’ve been dealing with big issues when it comes to Salmonella and Tomatoes. Now one of the leading scientists in the fresh produce arena sent along a little brain teaser:

You and your team have once again done an amazing job of consolidating a lot of information regarding many, many sides of this issue and the human element.

I am curious if anyone has suggested that FDA’s approach is due, in part, to a fundamental lack of faith or confidence in food safety programs and pathogen-testing systems within the produce and fresh processing sector domestically and abroad and perhaps tomatoes in particular?

This little question is actually a big one because it strikes at the question of what we, as an industry, can draw from such a disaster.

Following the spinach crisis, the consensus of the industry was that part of the explanation for what occurred was a lack of regulatory confidence in the industry. Actions such as the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement were justified not only as a way to make foods safer and head off regulation but, also, as a kind of reassurance scheme in which the very effort would build regulatory confidence.

Now it is not merely true but a truism that FDA has “… a fundamental lack of faith or confidence in food safety programs and pathogen testing systems within the produce and fresh processing sector domestically and abroad…” After all, if FDA had faith that our industry systems were perfect, it wouldn’t believe this outbreak could have anything to do with tomatoes.

The problem is that building regulatory confidence may be impossible, because FDA is living in a zero-tolerance world. In other words, what would it mean for FDA to “have confidence” in produce industry food safety efforts?

The only answer is that if nobody ever gets sick, FDA will then have confidence.

It is sort of like the old saw about banks only being willing to lend money to those who don’t need it.

FDA winds up having faith in the food safety programs of those who don’t have outbreaks. The others get cut no slack.

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