passage of the bipartisan Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 became more
likely than ever last week.
On Friday, just two
days after the legislation passed the House Energy and Commerce
Committee, news broke of the latest in a growing series of contamination
scares -- this one involving cookie dough.
voluntarily recalled its Toll House refrigerated cookie dough products
after learning that the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for
Disease Control are investigating illnesses linked to consumers eating
raw cookie dough contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.
The FDA, which
issued a warning to consumers not to eat any of the refrigerated Toll
House products, reported that there have been 66 reports of illness
across 28 states since March. No one has died, but 25 people have been
hospitalized. Seven experienced a complication called Hemolytic Uremic
Syndrome, which "can lead to serious kidney damage and even
death," according to the FDA.
"If there was
anyone left in America who didn't realize we need to reform the food
safety functions at the Food and Drug Administration, this latest recall
of Nestle Toll House Cookie Dough provides a sobering wake-up call,"
the Center for Science in the Public Interest said in a statement
"For too long,
the agency has lacked the authority and the resources it needs to inspect
food-processing facilities, issue mandatory recalls, and punish
violators. Once again, the agency is forced to react after illnesses are
already occurring, when the focus should be on preventing contamination in
the first place. We urge the House to pass the Food Safety Enhancement
"The fact that
this outbreak was not detected until more than 60 people were ill in 28
states is precisely why we urgently need increased funding for the
agencies responsible for public health," said food litigator Marler
After the bill's
approval by the Energy and Commerce Committee, which is chaired by the
bill's sponsor, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), Grocery Manufacturers
Association president/CEO Pamela G. Bailey reaffirmed GMA's support of
consumer confidence is the foundation of everything we do, manufacturers
take food safety very seriously and invest their reputations and
resources in producing safe products," she said in a statement.
is increasing its investment in food safety and is prepared to make
additional investments to continually improve the safety of our food
supplies. We look forward to working with Congress to swiftly enact food
safety legislation that boosts consumer confidence and addresses the
challenges posed by today's global and complex food supply."
The House is now
expected to vote on the bill prior to its July 4 recess, according to
Defendingfoodsafety.com, a site run by food safety defense attorneys.
At this juncture, it
is hard to imagine legislators voting against the bill. "Who wants
to vote against having safe food?," comments Laura Ries of the Ries
& Ries brand consultancy. "That's like voting against clean
manufacturers and retailers obviously stand to benefit from legislation
and initiatives that help restore consumer confidence, messages promoting
safety measures by individual marketers would be counterproductive, in
promote safety measures because it would make people think about crashes,
and every major airline has had crashes at some point in its
history," she says. "Similarly, most people don't think about
food safety until there's a problem, and individual companies highlighting
safety measures would just serve to raise concerns."
from some of the country's largest food marketers have been involved in
recent contamination scares, Ries believes that major brands may be able
to differentiate themselves from private-label products and cheaper
alternatives by conveying that brands invest in quality and measures such
as added safety packaging.
"Of course, you
can't just say it -- the brand has to demonstrate its quality and safety
to consumers in tangible ways," she stresses.