Friday, January 23, 2009

Food Safety and Punishment

It's probably too soon to tell if the salmonella-infected peanut butter being recalled throughout the country was something that happened accidentally or happened because of corporate negligence. Many of these outbreaks are often called accidents, when in fact food safety investigations reveal negligent manufacturing conditions that directly lead to these disasters.

To put it another way, if a company is cutting corners on cleanliness and safety in order to save a buck, can you really call it an "accident" when it sends a dangerous product onto to the market?

Out of 486 cases of salmonella illness reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 people have died and 107 have been hospitalized. The most recent person sickened fell ill on Jan 8. Since it takes up to three weeks for cases to be reported to the disease agency, more are expected.

Investigators tracked the salmonella outbreak to the Peanut Corporation of America, a factory in Blakely, Ga., that makes peanut butter and peanut paste. The plant, which is closed, packed peanut butter in bulk ranging from 5 to 1,700 pounds, much of which was shipped to institutions. The plant also produced peanut paste, a more concentrated product used in candy, crackers and many other kinds of foods. .
Lucky they don't live in China, where the government recently sentenced to death members of a dairy corporation that produced tainted milk products, killing at least six children.
BEIJING — Chinese courts sentenced two men to death on Thursday for endangering public safety in a tainted-milk scandal that killed at least six children, according to state-run news media.

Three other defendants, including a top dairy company executive, were sentenced to life in prison. Another defendant received a suspended death sentence, and 15 others were given prison terms from 2 to 15 years.

The sentences were the first to be handed down in one of the worst food safety scandals in China in decades. The scandals erupted in September, prompting a global recall of Chinese-made dairy products, shaking consumer confidence and devastating the nation’s dairy industry.
Talk about "getting tough on crime."

No one is advocating similar punishments here (capital punishment seems a bit extreme), but if it was shown to be corporate negligence, the only redress those families who have lost someone would have would be in the civil courts, with a possible monetary judgment.

Perhaps these things would be better treated in the criminal courts. As a deterrent, avoiding prison time, as opposed to civil judgments, would probably ensure better manufacturing conditions and safer food on the market.

UPDATE: Looks like evidence is coming out the peanut plant in question was cited several times for health safety violations over the years.

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