Making Good Choices: Should Labelling Indicate Food Safety Standards?

This article is an excerpt from an online panel discussion hosted by Burton Software on September 17, 2015. Start from the beginning of this seven-part series on innovations and development in food safety from the points of view of industry, technology, and policy or watch the entire panel discussion.

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.

Q6: What can consumers do to create food safety changes in their communities?

Detwiler: First, we as consumers can insist that there’s food safety education in public schools. Another thing we can do is have those conversations about food safety in our homes. Even in the media right now… I’m sure everyone participating here today has watched some hospital or doctor show (there are a lot of them to choose from). If we saw a doctor going in to perform surgery without washing their hands first, we would question that. We always see surgeons washing their hands. You don’t see the same thing, however, when it comes to all these cooking shows. Rarely, in fact, I’ve never seen an episode or situation where the use of thermometers, the use of hand-washing, even discussion about food safety, played a role in any of these shows. So we’re sending out this message that food safety is not an issue, that it’s not that serious, even for the professionals.

There’s a lot that we can do and again, we also vote by where we put our money. If we continue to purchase from companies who don’t take food safety seriously, then that’s basically sending the message to those companies that it’s ok. If we decide to vote by putting our money into restaurants, grocery stores, brand labels that do make food safety a significant priority, then that is going to send a message throughout the industry.

Burton: I agree completely, but I think that there’s still a missing piece for consumers. The problem is that the consumer can walk up and down the aisles of the supermarket and easily identify products that are Halal, Kosher, non-GMO, vegan, any of those things, but there’s no way for them to know if the product that they’re buying is from a company that has a monitored, comprehensive food safety plan. And I think that there needs to be some visual cue that consumers can use to make the right choice, which speaks a little bit against the non-compete aspect of food safety but I think it’s important for consumers to have that tool in their toolbox.

Detwiler: Right, but unfortunately, you find too many legislators that voice opposition against everything from country of origin labelling to GMO labelling saying that the consumer doesn’t need this information. They say that too much information is actually bad for the consumer because (I’m not kidding) the average American consumer is not smart enough to understand this information, which to me completely undermines the idea of making educated consumer decisions, whether it be at the retailer or the restaurant.

Koeris: If we were to allow labelling of this kind, it would, eventually, become a non-compete issue because everyone would end up being compliant and it wouldn’t be a true differentiator. That’s actually where market competition forces can help and we can act as consumers here to let companies know how we feel about it through social media and certainly in our legislative block.

Moderator: We’re certainly seeing more tools coming out for consumers to track and be up-to-date on food safety recalls and other things like that.

Burton: You can see FDA symbols or USDA symbols on the high-risk meat and poultry products, so that sets a precedent.

Up next from the audience: How should meat processors, specifically, understand consumer expectations with more and more recalls?

Go to Part 7: Regulatory Challenges for Meat Producers >>>

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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