US politicians have criticised the country’s food makers for failing to protect consumers during the recent salmonella outbreak, which has sickened 683 people in 46 states and resulted in nine deaths.
The US House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee launched a major political investigation into the outbreak, which was traced to tainted peanut products produced by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA).
The outbreak resulted in the recall of 3,400 products and hit a number of other companies who sourced peanut ingredients from PCA.
While the Committee has highlighted the role of PCA management and the shortcomings of the US food regulators, it yesterday (19 March) launched a stinging attack on the US food industry as a whole for its failure to safeguard the health of consumers.
US cereal giant Kellogg, along with King Nut Corp and Vitamin Cottage Natural Food Markets, were present at the hearing to speak on their roles in the outbreak and subsequent recall.
Henry Waxman, chairman of the Committee, said that these three companies – along with others involved in the recall – failed to ensure that their products were safe.
“At our February hearing, Dr Stephen Sundlof, FDA’s director of food safety and applied nutrition, agreed that “each company in the chain of manufacturing has an obligation to ensure that the ingredients they are using as well as their final products are safe for Americans to consume”. I wholeheartedly agree…. All three companies failed to meet this standard. Their final products were not safe, and people suffered as a result,” Waxman said.
“Our goal now is to develop common sense legislation to improve prevention systems at the front end of this process before one more person dies from tainted food,” he added.
Addressing Kellogg CEO David Mackay, Waxman suggested that the company ignored some “red flags” that should have alerted the cereal giant to issues at PCA.
“PCA was a bad company and they did bad things, and they were clearly ignorant … but this indicates to me that Kellogg was pretty sloppy,” he said.
Mackay told the hearing that Kellogg relied on an independent audit report from AIB International, had safety tests conducted on the product and required PCA to provide evidence of its safety plans.
“I think we did everything we could do,” Mackay insisted. “We were dealing with an unethical and dishonest supplier. I’m unaware how you manage for someone who is prepared to put the public at risk.”
Mackay called on the US lawmakers to take action to strengthen the nation’s food safety system. He suggested the formation of a single food safety authority, a requirement that every food company develop risk analysis and document preventative controls, annual inspections for high-risk products, ensuing the FDA has the “right mix” of intervention and enforcement powers, and closer cooperation between the industry and regulators to establish a single safety standard.
“Kellogg is firmly committed to working together with Congress, industry and other stakeholders to evaluate and advance these recommendations,” Mackay said.