Acheson-Food-Safety-for-2019

Looking Back at the Top Food Safety Issues of 2019

Dec. 31, 2019
The Acheson Group looks back at regulatory issues that made news.

Borrowing from The Acheson Group's Top 10 "TAG Insights", I've curated a list of the top food safety issues from 2019. 

  • Personal Costs of Outbreaks Now Extend to Boards of Directors. Ever since the Peanut Corp. of America convictions of executives, we’ve seen the potential personal costs of outbreaks for businesspeople. 2019 brought with it a whole new twist. With litigation ongoing from the 2015 Blue Bell Creameries listeria outbreak, not only did it impact a group we’ve not previously seen involved – the board of directors – but the latest lawsuit was brought not by an impacted consumer but by a stockholder who sued two key executives and the board for breach of fiduciary duties.
  • Lessons From an Anything-But-Typical Recall. Last March 12, a recall notice was posted on the FDA website for Pillsbury flour due to possible Salmonella contamination. While that may sound typical, this recall was anything but typical. That’s because some grocery chains were notified of the recall by the parent company, Hometown Food Co., on March 8, but the company did not submit it to FDA at that time. Because FDA’s standard procedure is that it only releases recall information upon receipt of such a notice, the recall wasn’t publicly posted for four days. While this may seem insignificant compared with the agency’s six-week delay in the October romaine contamination (see No. 8), it does provide lessons on industry preparation and understanding of what is required by whom and when.
  • USDA Foreign Object Contamination Focus Prompts Customer Complaint Guidance. With the incidence of foreign object recalls increasing in USDA-regulated foods, the agency took an interesting step of issuing guidance on Industry Response to Customer Complaints. While it may not seem to be a standard area of regulation, the agency put emphasis on response and reporting of complaints because Notification (9 CFR 418.2) requires the reporting of incidents to USDA within 24 hours of determining that the product is adulterated. 
  • The Food Industry in 2019: Donning Our Soothsayer Hats. While meal kits and restaurant delivery haven’t elicited much [news], the “clean meat” and plant-based alternatives are definitely moving forward. Blockchain continues to be advocated, although the advocacy isn’t turning into much. We reported on this in our 2019 predictions as well. 
  • Is Your Food “Reasonably Foreseeably” Ready to Eat? If it is “reasonably foreseeable” that a consumer will eat your food product without further processing, it is to be considered ready-to-eat – and you are responsible for all the FSMA requirements that go along with that.
  • The Impact of Hemp Legalization on Food. Cannabis, hemp, edibles, oils … whatever the ingredient or formulation, there are vast sums of money being invested in this. But there are also extensive and varied regulation depending on the state in which you have your production.
  • FDA Issues First FSVP Warning Letter, Increases Import Regulation. The Foreign Supplier Verification Program places the burden of [the safety of] imported foods on the U.S. importer and includes FDA inspection and enforcement authority of foreign facilities. 
  • Was FDA’s Outbreak Announcement Delay Inexcusable or Sensible? On Oct. 31, FDA announced a romaine lettuce E. coli O157:H7 outbreak for which the active investigation had ended and the outbreak appeared to be over. There was critical coverage of FDA’s “inexcusable” delay, but having been an FDA official myself involved in outbreak investigations, the delay was practical and sensible.
  • FDA Defines Requirements for IA Rule. With the first compliance date for the Intentional Adulteration (IA), or Food Defense, Rule due last July, FDA (finally) published the second of an intended three installments of its draft guidance. No, the third installment has not yet been released. 
  • Are You Focused on Allergens? Regulators Are. With at least three recent food allergy-related deaths in the U.K., that government has increased its focus on allergens [and may initiate new regulation]. It is an area on which U.S. food facilities should keep a close eye.

About the Author: David Acheson, M.D., was associate commissioner for foods in the FDA and is founder and CEO of the Acheson Group.

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