Blog: Dean BestFDA faces flak over peanut butter

Dean Best | 19 January 2009

Peanut butter is a staple in many an American larder and, over the weekend, that household favourite brought into sharp focus one of the key food industry issues facing the incoming Obama administration.

For the second time in just a matter of months, the US food safety system is firmly in the spotlight. Last summer, a salmonella scare linked to peppers grown in Mexico prompted nationwide recalls in the US, led to over a thousand cases of poisoning – and led to fierce criticism of how food safety is policed.

The lack of an effective system of traceability, the lack of information sharing between US food regulators and state officials and, perhaps more pertinently, a lack of funding have all been blamed for problems dealing with safety scares across the pond.

Once again, the US Food and Drug Administration finds itself under fire. With almost 500 people falling ill from salmonella poisoning from contaminated peanut butter, and with six deaths linked to the outbreak, there have been fresh calls to modernise the agency and the overall regulatory structure.

The FDA has been ultra-cautious, urging consumers to avoid eating food containing peanut butter unless they know it is not linked to the outbreak. While some may applaud the safety watchdog's prudence, the likes of Hershey and Mars - whose peanut butter products have not been implicated in the scare - may be less than thrilled. Indeed, they were among a number of US manufacturers to put out statements highlighting the safety of their products following the FDA's words of warning this weekend.

Elsewhere in the US last week, the spread of German discount giant Aldi throughout the country caused some waves in the retail sector. Aldi is looking to open 75 more stores in the US this year as it bids to capitalise on the clamour among consumers for value.

Aldi first entered the US back in 1976 but had problems winning over US consumers with its basic level of service and reliance on private label. Now, store brands are gaining in popularity, while Aldi has also shaken up its stores to make them more attractive to US consumers.

However, Aldi is unlikely to have it all its own way. The rise of private label has led larger US rivals like Supervalu and Safeway to beef up their own-brand ranges, meaning Aldi has a fight on its hands if it wants to fully succeed Stateside.


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