John Block Reports: Holiday in Europe – Food Safety Gets Personal

OFW Law founding principal Richard L. Frank fills in for former USDA Secretary John R. Block on John Block Reports.

Over the past 35 years, I have acted as food safety counsel to a wide array of agriculture interests in the United States including producers, processors, distributors and retailers. The concepts of food poisoning and food borne illness were mostly academic to me. I have often sought to encourage industry to take “the high road” and do all that is possible to facilitate safe food. Recently, I came face to face with the horrors that contaminated food can have.

Several weeks ago, my family and I vacationed in Europe. Two of my young, healthy children consumed a goat cheese salad. Approximately ten hours later, both had high fevers, were vomiting, and had severe diarrhea. The onset was quick and dramatic.

The healthcare system in England was accessible and accommodating. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done for food poisoning except for the patient to remain hydrated and rest. Two weeks later, my children are recovering, but still not yet 100%. My son was forced to withdraw from a summer class at the London School of Economics, and my daughter had to curtail her summer holiday and fly home.

Food safety has taken on a new meaning for me. When you see your own children suffering, a topic that was once purely academic becomes personal.

We will never be able to totally eliminate food borne illness but must continue to make all efforts to identify the sources and control the consequences. While the U.S. has the safest food supply in the world, that doesn’t mean it can’t be made safer.

Last year, Congress passed the Food Safety and Modernization Act. Now it’s time for FDA to implement it. As Congress looks for budget cuts, I hope they will spare FDA and fully fund the FSMA. Both FDA and USDA need more funds to help keep our food supply as safe as possible.

Nearly all food companies are committed to the safety of their product. However, as Jack Block’s former boss, Ronald Reagan. used to say, “Trust, but verify.” The new HACCP programs with FDA and USDA oversight will help improve our food safety.

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