Food safety scandals and recalls occurred because someone wasn’t doing their job, says editor-in-chief, Lauren R. Hartman. Let’s hope the New Year sees some stricter reinforcements and harsher consequences. 

Last year-2010-was a big year for food issues, food safety and food policy-particularly because food became the subject of new legislation to require increased inspections both for domestic and foreign foods and to keep them safe from harmful and sometimes deadly pathogens like Salmonella.

With recalls of foods such as eggs, romaine lettuce, butter, pet food and peanut butter, it was a very busy year for the Food and Drug Administration. Scientists say that the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico will likely cause decades of seafood testing for safety purposes.

The new $1.4-billion S. 510, or Food Safety Modernization Act, gives the FDA enhanced responsibility to ensure that the nation’s food is safe, provides the FDA with mandatory recall authority, mandates that the agency increase its frequency of inspections and enables the FDA access to food producer records. It also requires importers to verify the safety of their foreign supplies, and requires businesses that make and process food to have plans in place also designed to prevent adulteration. The legislation requires the food industry help pay for the increase inspections through additional fees.

But if our nation’s food safety system was running the way it was supposed to run, this would never have had to be imposed. Though it’s an age-old structure and desperately needed improving, the tragic incidents that have taken place in the last few years should never have occurred if everyone was doing their job. The bipartisan senators released a joint statement after the announcements were released: “With the announcement today, we aim to not just to patch and mend our fragmented food safety system, we hope to reinforce the infrastructure, close the gaps and crate a systematic, risk-based and balanced approach to food safety in the United States.”

Why wasn’t this being done in the first place?

The food bill will place more emphasis on preventing foodborne illness and will provide new tools to respond to food safety problems. This is all well and good, but situations like the egg scandal this summer should never have happened if the powers in place were doing their jobs. Period.

This is not to say that we in the food industry don’t take pride in our work; there are many great companies, entrepreneurs and others involved in the food industry that do a terrific job and aim to continue to do so for as long as they can. But it seems that a tragedy always has to take place before new legislation is enacted and reinforced because someone or something within the supply chain has dropped the ball. The question is, how long will food safety’s reinforcement honeymoon last?

The people in this country can’t risk the chance of someone dropping the ball again because they just don’t care. How many more innocent victims must there be? You have heard all of this before and will again. I’m almost as sick of seeing it online and in print as you are, but I’d rather be sick of seeing this than read about another food safety crisis.