New rules aim to keep salmonella out of food

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Grocery manufacturers look to improve safety.Consumer advocates say the initiatives don’t go far enough.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

WASHINGTON —- A major food manufacturers group on Tuesday announced what it called “wide ranging” initiatives designed to make everyday food supplies safer in the wake of the deadly salmonella outbreak traced to Georgia peanuts and in advance of new federal food safety regulations in the works.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association’s initiatives include new training programs for workers and guidelines for keeping salmonella and other bacteria out of dry goods such as peanuts.

The group also is calling for more thorough third-party audits of food manufacturing plants, and it is working with another industry group to roll out an Internet-based product recall system to get contaminated food off store shelves more quickly.

“The bottom line is that the food industry has the major role in making sure foods are safe,” said Robert Brackett, chief science and regulatory affairs officer for the 350-member association. The group includes mom-and-pop firms as well as giant suppliers such as Kraft Foods Inc.

At least one consumer advocacy group said the new self-policing policies are good —- but not good enough.

Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at the Consumers Union, said companies such as the Peanut Corporation of America were already supposed to adhere to voluntary rules like the ones the Grocery Manufacturers Association advocates.

Instead, Peanut Corp. shipped products from its plants in Blakely, Ga., and Plainview, Texas, that it knew were tainted with salmonella, investigators have said. The products were blamed for the deaths of nine consumers and the sickening of nearly 700 others earlier this year.

What are really needed, Halloran said, are updated food safety rules, more federal inspections and more regulatory oversight.

After the salmonella outbreak, President Barack Obama ordered an overhaul of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s food safety operations. Congress also is drafting new regulations it wants in place by the end of the year.

Brackett said his association doesn’t object to increased FDA inspections and rules. But he said industry self-policing generally works.



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