Rising Recalls Are Shaping Government Policies

This article is an excerpt from an online panel discussion hosted by Burton Software on September 17, 2015 on innovations and development in food safety from the points of view of industry, technology, and policy. The entire panel discussion can be viewed here.

Our panelists are: Steven Burton (creator of Icicle cloud-based food safety application), Darin Detwiler (senior policy coordinator at STOP Foodborne Illness), and Michael Koeris (co-founder of Sample6 pathogen detection and control technology). Learn more about them at the end of this article.

Q1: Food safety recalls in the USA increased by 25% in 2014 compared to 2013 and almost half were due to mislabelling of allergens. In the last five years, we have also seen significant changes to food safety regulations around the world, notably with the US FDA Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011, here in Canada with the Safe Foods for Canadians Act in 2012, and the Food Safety Law in China that comes into effect next month. How have trends in food safety recalls impacted government policy in the USA and internationally and how are these changes designed to respond to consumer safety needs?

Detwiler: First off, an important note is that there are two different distinctions. Up in Canada, you don’t have the same regulatory foundation as you have in the United States. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considered to be, as noted with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), responsible for food safety, but the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is actually responsible for food safety of meat and poultry whereas the FDA is responsible for everything else. One of the key issues here is that while FSMA has given recall authority ‐ an incredible power ‐ to the FDA, today, the USDA does not have the power to mandate or recall.

Most recalls are simply recommended and advised through letters in communication between the government and industry and even to this day, companies can actually opt-out of a recall. They can decide not to participate in a recall. Of note, a year ago there was a death of a young boy named Joshua near Boston, MA from e. coli tied to ground beef that was sold at a major chain grocery store. That grocery store had stalled on participating in a recall. If the grocery store had participated in the recall as requested by the US Government, perhaps that family would not have purchased that item and that child would not have become sick and died. So it’s not just the ability to have recalls; first you have to have the actual authority to mandate a recall, but then the actual regulatory strength to follow up with that recall. The interaction between the government and the industry is critical in that aspect.

Koeris: At Sample6 (being an industrial diagnostics manufacturer that targets that food industry), we have received fairly great interest from the US Government in testing that allows them to test for these microbes quicker ‐ like salmonella, like e. coli, like listeria. What’s interesting is not only to have the power to mandate a recall, which helps you enforce, what you need to do on the front end is detect that there is a recall necessary.

It’s been troubling to see that the budgetary issues surrounding the constant sampling, that both the USDA and US FDA have historically done here in the US, have been cut back and in some cases even suspended. So the question then is, how does the government know to police when they don’t know where to actually go because they are not testing anymore? So that’s an issue that needs to be resolved and having this visibility from the industry side as well as the regulatory side and the public policy side is really critical.

Detwiler: I do want to add that there are many companies that voluntarily recall their products. Even in the last three hours, there was a notice put out by the FDA that a dairy company voluntarily recalled their product. I don’t want to make it sound like all recalls are initiated by government and are mandatory; there are many voluntary recalls that are initiated from within industry itself.

Koeris: That’s a really important point. The public pressure can increase the overall pressure that the industry faces. Twitter, Facebook…those are very powerful media sharing tools that serve as great amplifiers and some ways equalizers. Everybody can speak their minds, good and bad, but overall it enables the FDA and USDA to tap into that surveillance centre and build tools to track outbreaks and spreads through Twitter and Facebook. I think it is a wonderful initiative to crowd-source that kind of surveillance.

Detwiler: Yes, even Yelp has been studied of late in terms of the amount of illnesses and even outbreaks that have been identified through people participating through that social media outlet as opposed to communicating with state or county health officials.

Koeris: To cap it off, it’s wonderful there’s increased visibility and awareness but more needs to be done both from a regulatory point of view as well as from a funding perspective, and overall industry buy-in to all these new procedures.

(Burton joins the discussion in the next installment.)

Up next: Cucumbers are in the headlines right now for salmonella contamination in both the USA and Canada, though it’s not yet clear if the outbreaks are related. However, the American recall of cucumbers from California follows another high-profile recall for cilantro and other produce from particular Mexican food producers. How are new regulations addressing the increasingly international food supply and what are the challenges associated with this?

Go to Part 2: In the Global Supply Chain, Who is Responsible for Food Safety? >>>

Watch the whole panel discussion here.

About Our Panelists

Steven Burton, creator of Icicle Technologies Inc., is a software architect who started his career in architecture and moved into construction before establishing a successful manufacturing business in the ’90s. Moving into the software sector in the late ’90s, he established Burton Software in 1999 to specialize in the development of high-performance web-based software application. Burton initially designed Icicle to address the challenges to managing food safety for small to medium-sized stakeholders in the food industry. With Icicle, Burton strives to improve the safety of the world’s food supply by developing the tools to empower companies involved in the production, processing and distribution of food products to develop and verify codex-based HACCP systems.

Since the 1993 “Jack in the Box” E.coli outbreak, policymakers at the state, federal, and food industry levels have called upon Darin Detwiler as a significant voice in strengthening America’s food policies. Detwiler is a frequent speaker at national food policy conferences, delivering keynote speeches before government, industry, and university audiences across the USA and Europe. Detwiler is the senior policy coordinator at STOP Foodborne Illness, the nation’s leading nonprofit, public health organization dedicated to the prevention of illness and death from foodborne pathogens. He is the lead academic consultant and an adjunct professor in the MS Program in Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry at Northeastern University, where he is also a Doctoral Candidate in Law and Policy with a focus on food policy.

Dr. Michael Koeris co-founded Sample6, Inc. and serves as its Vice President of Business Development. Koeris served as the President and Chief Operating Officer of Sample6. Koeris previously worked at KPMG Consulting and McKinsey & Company in Germany, as well as Flagship Ventures in Cambridge. Mr. Koeris was a recipient of the German Academic Exchange Fellowship (DAAD) to study at MIT. Koeris did his doctoral work on network approaches to combat antibiotic-tolerant bacteria with Professor James Collins, and co-developed Sample6’s technology, working with Tim. Koeris is a visiting scholar with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the Biomedical Engineering Department at Boston University as well as at MIT. Prior to his doctoral degree, Koeris graduated with a M.S. in Biochemistry from the Free University of Berlin.

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