Blog: Dean BestFood safety a hard nut to crack in US

Dean Best | 6 April 2009

Once again, the issue of food safety in the US is firmly in the spotlight.

And, once again, just months after the peanut salmonella outbreak caused havoc in the industry, as well as sickness and fatalities among consumers, a US nut supplier faces questions over the safety of its products.

Salmonella has been found in pistachios processed by Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, prompting the California-based firm to issue a nationwide recall - and dozens of its customers to pull lines containing possibly contaminated ingredients.

The likes of snack giant PepsiCo and retailer Kroger have been caught up in the pistachio scare and, although there has yet to be a case of sickness positively linked to the contaminated pistachios, there is again criticism of the way US regulators police the nation's food supply.

However, the US Food and Drug Administration has been determined to highlight how industry and regulators are co-operating to piece together the full impact of the contaminated pistachios. The fact that the contamination first came to light after one of Setton's customers, Kraft Foods, tested a batch of its pistachios does demonstrate a certain vigilance among manufacturers - so often criticised when food safety is compromised and the public's health is threatened.

Nevertheless, industry and regulators have again found themselves in the firing line and, while President Obama may have had his hands full last week, we can be sure reform of the US food safety system is high on his administration's agenda.

Health Secretary-designate Governor Kathleen Sebelius last week told Congress that "restoring trust" in the FDA would be her top priority. In Europe, some of the food industry's biggest suppliers are in a state of flux.

Bakkavor, the Iceland-based ready meals maker, posted annual losses on the back of restructuring costs and a loss on its investment in Greencore, the Irish food group.

Wessanen, the Dutch firm with operations on both sides of the Atlantic, issued a profit warning last week, blaming competition in North America and Europe.

Both companies decided to give little away when just-food quizzed them on their performance, preferring instead to stick to the announcements issued to the stock market.

Frustrating though that reticence may be, perhaps it is unsurprising, given the tumultous economic landscape we find ourselves in.

As we go through 2009, it's likely more food manufacturers under pressure will stay tight-lipped about the problems they face.


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