Archive for the ‘Food Poisoning’ Category

“Gluten Free” Update: Baker Behind Bars

Paul Seelig, the owner of Great Specialty Products, has been sentenced to 9-11 years in prison for falsely representing to his customers that his bread was gluten free.  According to testimony from one of his former employees, Mr. Seelig also told customers that his products were “homemade,” even though he apparently just repackaged baked goods he bought at various stores.

The takeaway message (other than the obvious: follow the law) is that customers rely on a company’s representations, so it is important for those representations to be correct, documented, and verifiable.  Even if Seelig had truthfully represented that he tested his products weekly, he failed to produce any records confirming this at trial.  “Get it in writing” is as true now as it ever was; do you think your customers expect (and pay for) any less?

Most Ironic Food Recall of 2011: Toxic Waste Candy Recalled (Again) for Being Too Toxic

On March 26, the makers of Toxic Waste candy recalled their “Toxic Waste® Short Circuits™ Bubble Gum” for excessive lead content.  This is the second Toxic Waste candy product recalled in 2011 for excessive lead levels. 

The gum was distributed between January 4, 2011 and March 18, 2011.  This raises the question of the extent to which the recalled product may already have been consumed.  Time is of the essence for food recalls, and managing a food recall is easier for both the manfacturer and consumer when a product is recalled sooner than later.

As with the January 2011 recall of the company”s “nuclear sludge” candy, the recalled candy at issue here was imported.  Although non-chocolate candy accounted for only 7.3 percent of FDA food import violations from 1998 to 2004, it is difficult to find specific data regarding the scope of these violations.  However, the FDA provides information about how it monitors and regulates food importation.  Additionally, while candy manufacturers are not at this time required to develop and implement HACCP plans, companies may want to consider doing so sooner than later to manage their risk of food recalls.

Food Processing Companies, Restaurants, and Foodservice Providers: Do You Have a Current Food Defense Plan?

February 8, 2011 1 comment

Is your company implementing plans to protect its products from intentional harm?  Reducing this risk helps protect your customers, your employees, and your business.

What is a Food Defense Plan?

A Food Defense Plan is a written plan to identify, address, and minimize the risk of intentional harm to food, such as deliberately adding pesticide to ground beef sold for human consumption.

Why is a Food Defense Plan Necessary?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has determined that the food and agriculture industry is one of the nation’s most critical elements of infrastructure.  This trillion-plus dollar industry may be vulnerable to attack.

How Can My Business Develop a Food Defense Plan?

Preparing a Food Defense Plan requires identifying potential vulnerabilities, preparing a written plan to minimize them, and verifying the effectiveness of the food defense measures.  The FDA and USDA have free food defense plan development and training resources available.

California Restaurants and Retail Foodservice Companies: Do You Post Proposition 65 Warnings?

Your restaurant serves wholesome food and artisinal cocktails; the menu touts all of the fresh ingredients, including the farms where you obtain your fresh produce and meats.  Did you also disclose a Proposition 65 warning about potential food safety hazards?

California’s Proposition 65 requires businesses to notify consumers that hazardous chemicals may be present in products purchased on the premises.  A consumer may sue your restaurant and allege that it does not comply with this requirement.  Even if such a lawsuit is frivolous, litigation can be quite expensive.

Fortunately, a business can take cost-effective steps to protect itself from the risks of this litigation by posting prescribed warnings, such as:

“WARNING:  Chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, or birth defects or other reproductive harm may be present in foods or beverages sold or served here.”

I know, a warning label may not be the most enticing way to upsell your customers.  However, think about this simple fact: the U.S. government has required warning labels on alcoholic beverages since 1989, but there is little (if any) evidence that they have affected sales.  (There is also a specific Proposition 65 warning for alcoholic beverages.)

However, there are emerging Proposition 65 litigation risks, such as neurotoxic acrylamide in fried foods and carcinogenic heterocyclic amines (HCAs) in grilled foodsThe San Francisco Department of Public Health publishes this handy (and free) FAQ about Proposition 65 for restaurants and other food establishments.

For more information, feel free to read the article I co-authored regarding Proposition 65 Risk Management.

For Consumers: A Quick Guide to Super Bowl Party Food Safety

The FDA has published this quick-and-easy four-step guide to food safety while preparing food for your Super Bowl party.  First, wash your hands.  (I know, this seems so obvious, but the problems that are literally right in front of your face are the ones that so many people overlook.)  Second, keep raw and ready-to-eat foods separate to prevent cross-contamination.  Third, cook foods thoroughly.  Finally, keep in mind that it’s always better to prevent problems than to respond to them.  (Perhaps the FDA should have put this step first.)  The site includes other food safety links to help address specific food safety questions.

In any event, enjoy the game.

Food Recall Risk Management: Plan Ahead to Minimize Litigation Risks

February 3, 2011 3 comments

The latest reminder that restaurants and grocers can benefit from implementing food recall risk management plans: two customers of Safeway grocery stores filed a class-action lawsuit contending that store should have used Safeway Club Card contact information to notify consumers sooner about recalled food they purchased.

The lawsuit does not contend that the plaintiffs suffered any illness.  However, plaintiffs apparently request that Safeway implement a system to notify Club Card customers of food recalls sooner.  It also apparently requests that Safeway refund its customers the cost of the recalled food purchased.  (Note: plaintiffs did not need to sue Safeway to get their money backThe company’s website notes that customers may return recalled products to their local store for a full refund.)

Just two days ago, I noted that some stores were still selling contaminated food after a recall, and that they could lower their liability risks by signing up for free recall notifications.  (Here, apparently the plaintiffs purchased their food before it was recalled; at this time I am not aware of any allegation that Safeway sold recalled food.)  However, Costco took the next step, and at least two years ago, it started telephoning its members about food recalls for previously-purchased items.

Although no known authority (under California or federal law) requires a store to use loyalty card contact information to notify customers of recalls by phone or email, as the capability to warn customers about recalled food expands, so will customers’ expectations.  Why wait until your company is a defendant facing trial in a court of law (or the court of public opinion) to try and minimize the risk of litigation?

Thankfully, the lawsuit against Safeway does not claim that anyone suffered injury, but one in six Americans suffers food poisoning every year, and about 3,000 die from it.  The more your company can show it implemented best practices to minimize the risk of personal injury, the less likely a jury (or the public) will find it did something wrong.

HACCP Resources for Small Food Processing Companies (and Restaurants)

February 3, 2011 3 comments

Developing, implementing, and verifying effective written Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans can seem like a daunting task for startup and small-scale food processing companies.  (The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act requires food processing companies to do so.)  Climb this hill one step at a time, and you may realize that it is not so hard after all.  The Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) of the USDA offers guidance and free information to help small and very small companies increase food safety by validating, verifying, and documenting their HACCP risk management plans.  Several universities and other organizations publish guidelines for how processing companies can develop HACCP SOPs.  Sample HACCP SOPs are also available for restaurants and foodservice companies.

My Company Only Manufactures Pet Food; Is a (Costly) Recall Necessary Due to a Risk to People?

February 2, 2011 1 comment

Pet food manufacturers need to plan proactively to prevent food recalls, too.  Even if people are not on the dog food diet, they may be exposed to salmonella by handling contaminated pet food products.  The moral of the story for (pet) food processing companies: although people should wash their hands more often, it’s often less expensive to produce a pathogen-free product than to incur expenses for a costly recall after discovering contamination.

Why are Some Stores Still Selling Contaminated Food a Week After It’s been Recalled?

February 1, 2011 1 comment

Why are some stores still selling a contaminated foodweek after it’s been recalled?  Perhaps they have not signed up for FDA email notifications re: product recalls.  This fast and free service will help your food processing company, restaurant, or retail store stay up-to-date about foods they use, serve, or sell and lower the risk of, e.g., selling salsa containing cilantro that may be contaminated with salmonella.

Most Ironic Food Recall of 2011 Expands

January 28, 2011 1 comment

The company that makes Toxic Waste candy that was recalled for excessive lead content has now expanded the recall to include some of its “Nuclear Sludge” candies sold since 2009.  How much of this has already been eaten?  One significant problem with food recalls is the lag time between the time of sale and the time of the recall, as people have likely consumed some of the recalled product.