First, our personal care products, now our food. The recent recalls of Goldfish Crackers and Trader Joe’s salad mix for salmonella contamination is enough for the consumer to wonder if anything is safe to purchase. Can consumers trust any manufacturer to produce a safe product? The danger is not limited to items in local food store chains. Fast food establishments have had their share of recalls as well. The list of recalled food items seems to grow at an exponential rate. The task of ensuring food and product safety seems to be too much for our government to handle alone. Consumers must take proactive food safety measures to protect our families. Food manufacturers should strive beyond standard safety inspection and conduct their own evaluations of third party food processing practices to ensure that the suppliers adhere to the guidelines of the FDA.
Pepperidge Farm, the manufacturer of Goldfish crackers and Trader Joe’s, boasts about the farming practices of their grain and produce suppliers. However, Pepperidge Farm says absolutely nothing about the practices of the whey powder suppliers. The confidence of manufacturing practices should be evident with all of their suppliers. In Trader Joe’s direct interaction with their salad suppliers, they should be more mindful of seasonal occurrences of food contamination. Trader Joe’s could conduct frequent visual inspections of third party processing sites as a requirement for shelf space in its stores. Additional inspections of third party processing sites should be conducted by the parent company to assure the customers that safe and updated processing measures are in place.
Safe Processing Practices
Food manufacturers should alert consumers of their suppliers’ subpar manufacturing processing practices, as well as those of the company itself. Consumers have the right to know if a product is made from genetically modified ingredients before it is recalled. The trademark smile of the Goldfish crackers can represent a product that was manufactured with safe ingredients from their suppliers. Trader Joe’s direct interactions with their suppliers should include current safety documentations and visual inspections of the facilities. Any ill-informed assumption that third party suppliers consistently use safe food practices puts the safety of the customers at risk. Trader Joe’s introduces new products weekly to consumers. Although Trader Joe’s keeps customers informed of new products in their weekly sales circular, ‘The Fearless Flyer’, they can also reassure customers that safe food handling and processing practices are in place.
Trader Joe’s states that they purchase items directly from growers and manufacturers who comply with the Good Manufacturing Practices of the FDA. GMC certification does not guarantee that the processes are current or practiced by the growers’ employees. The growers must provide documentation of laboratory analysis conducted by a professional with FDA nutrition certification. Nutrition experts cannot verify safe food processing practices. Start-up vendors or medium sized companies may not be able to adopt the Official Methods of Analysis standards or the costly product liability insurance Trader Joe’s requires of farmers and food vendors.
Consumers can actively participate in the food safety certification process. The Food Safety Modernization act provides channels for consumers to form Third Party Accreditation Group. The groups can be part of the food safety certification process. Third party accreditation can fill in the vacant inspection gaps between the government and small food processing companies.
When adverse food events develop, the daunting task of tracing the source of contamination is almost an impossibility. The regulations for food processing sites are complex. If a company has multiple farms and processing sites, it will need numerous food inspectors. Food processing inspectors are in short supply and active inspection officers cannot be at all of the sites simultaneously. Voluntary inspection groups can alleviate the overwhelming burden placed on government inspectors to ensure that large food companies are following safety regulations.
Production certification and regulations do not address the role the consumer has to ensure safety from contaminated food products and sources. The consumer demands for additional nutrition and processing information is not a substitute for adequate food handling practices. The practices start with purchasing decisions and end with preventative actions in the home. Checking labels for expiration dates, proper food preparation, and storage can prevent some of the adverse food events such as cross contamination or transmission of viruses, parasites, or other food borne pathogens.
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