One Bad Apple

March 17, 2009

The old saying, “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch,” is particularly apt when looking at the various inputs in today’s packaged consumer products. One food safety slip at one plant can have a devastating impact on seemingly unrelated products.

Take, for example, peanut butter. One Georgia plant is believed to be the source of a Salmonella typhimirium outbreak that has sickened nearly 600 and killed eight across the United States and Canada through early February. But those are known illnesses, and those sick but not seeking medical attention, may not have known they consumed contaminated peanut butter from the supplier.

A look at FDA’s recall Web site reveals hundreds of recalls from large and small consumer packaged goods companies that received inputs from the peanut butter processor. Some of them are more obvious – Ready Pac recalled its vegetable snack line that is packed with a side of peanut butter. But other products, like a recalled package of shrimp and cocktail sauce – which used peanut flavoring from the Georgia processor – wouldn’t be top-of-mind for consumers in a recall.

Over the last couple of months, as consumers began to become aware of a problem with peanut butter and related products, I heard shoppers telling others not to buy certain products because they might have salmonella. But, on the other hand, I also heard consumers talk about the outbreak, then proceed to buy one or more products containing peanut products – and in many cases it was the obvious items, like a case of peanut butter snack bars that a friend of mine purchased not minutes after having a discussion in the grocery store about the many recalled products.

This most recent outbreak does two things to the fresh-cut produce industry. First, it gives more arrows to those in Congress that want to reorganize FDA. Second, it illustrates the importance of having quality suppliers. Even if a fresh-cut snack or salad mix received contaminated product from a supplier, the name on the bag is the one that’s going to take the publicity hit, and even worse, be open to liability.

There’s always the possibility that a supplier intentionally passes along questionable product, as may have been the case with the processed peanut products, but a supplier audit program and third-party testing of all incoming raw – raw or finished – can reduce the chance that your company is caught in a barrel wit

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