As any baker knows, even one foodborne-illness outbreak or product contamination scare can not only cause irreparable harm to a company's image, but permanently affect its financial well being. This is why so many bakers and other food manufacturers rely on their ingredient suppliers to ensure the integrity of their products. Sometimes all it takes is one bad egg to spoil the batch-only this time the peanuts were bad, and bakers are liable to pay the price.
The recent salmonella outbreak attributed to peanut butter resulted in nine deaths to date. The salmonella was traced back to a Georgia peanut plant. Stewart Parnell, president, Peanut Corporation of America, headquartered in Lynchburg, Va., reportedly complained about the cost and delays the contamination was causing his business. Parnell's actions were negligent if he knowingly failed to destroy contaminated product, or dismissed positive tests by resubmitting the same samples to different laboratories for new tests.
Parnell seemingly failed to show much concern for the victims of the contamination, nor for the effect it could potentially have on manufacturers that use peanuts or peanut-based products as an ingredient. Parnell's concern for his company's bottom line and disregard for safety clearly sent a message to regulators that more oversight is needed when it comes to the nation's food supply.
But should all food manufacturers pay the price for one company's negligence? After all, who is going to pay for an increase in plant inspections, product testing and other possible agency mandates?
“A few bad actors, one in particular (peanuts), are the driving force in the latest calls for increased FDA powers for mandatory recall authority,” says Nick Pyle, president of the Independent Bakers Association, in this month's News Analysis (p. 42). “Many in Congress, more specifically Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the powerful Appropriations Subcommittee chairperson with jurisdiction over FDA, are calling for a single food agency to handle duties mostly split between FDA and the Department of Agriculture. The possibility of user fees and fees for the privilege of regulation are very likely to fund the activities of the new agency.”
Food safety is of utmost concern for all food manufacturers, but oversight of all matters related to food safety should be the responsibility of each company. Parnell's priorities and logic were completely misguided. He ignored food safety while focusing on his bottom line. Now all food manufacturers may find their bottom line being hit by user fees for additional government oversight, and all on account of some really bad peanuts.