May 4, 2015

Blue Bell Listeria Outbreak Shows Consumers, Not FDA, Have the Real Power

Richard Williams

Senior Affiliated Scholar
Summary

Unfortunately, we are in the midst of a food safety outbreak. This time it’s an ice cream company, Blue Bell, and the pathogen is listeria. As with any tragedy, the first things people want to know are, “Who’s in charge, and what are they doing about this?” That’s a natural reaction. The interesting thing is that the answer begins with: “us.” We, the consumers, are in charge, and we are the ones holding them accountable. That is exactly as it should be.

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Unfortunately, we are in the midst of a food safety outbreak. This time it’s an ice cream company, Blue Bell, and the pathogen is listeria. As with any tragedy, the first things people want to know are, “Who’s in charge, and what are they doing about this?” That’s a natural reaction. The interesting thing is that the answer begins with: “us.” We, the consumers, are in charge, and we are the ones holding them accountable. That is exactly as it should be.

This may not seem like enough. There will be questions about what Congress and the Food and Drug Administration are doing to make sure this never happens again. But to rely on government for the solution is to rely on the same broken cycle that we’ve had for over a hundred years.

Congress passed the first food safety law in 1906 and it has been passing laws ever since. Most recently, in 2010, it passed the Food Safety Modernization Act, which created a legal requirement for the food industry to monitor its food safety processes, something that had mostly been done voluntarily by the industry since the 1970s. In fact, the food industry invented this monitoring, called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points.

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