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Food Safety Back in the Spotlight

March 17, 2009
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President Obama’s remarks during his latest radio and video address that the nation’s food safety system is a “hazard to public health” have caused heads to turn (and perhaps in some instances, roll) for their blunt assessment.

As part of his announcement to overhaul the agencies responsible for the safety and security of the food supply, President Obama named a new head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dr. Margaret Hamburg. He also proposed a new Food Safety Working Group designed to coordinate food safety laws throughout the government and work with him to ensure the laws are updated and working properly. In his address, Obama also permanently banned “downer” cows (cows too sick or weak t stand on their own) from entering the meat supply.

These changes come on the heels of new research showing Americans’ trust in the safety and security of the country’s food supply is fading. A survey conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Food Industry Center and released earlier this month shows that fewer than one in four consumers thinks the U.S. food supply is safer now than it was at this time last year, according to the Web site mndaily.com. (The Food Industry Center survey has gauged consumer confidence in food safety on a weekly basis since last May.)

As the administration takes its own steps to boost food safety, grocery stores in some parts of the United States might play their own role. According to an article in the March 16 Los Angeles Times, legislators in California are discussing the use of supermarket checkout scanners to immediately alert shoppers about recalled products.

California state Senator Dean Florez, a food safety advocate, remarked, “Grocers have the tools at their disposal to give consumers the final line of defense they need and expect.”

Our Take: Yes, times are booming for retailers with strong store brand programs. But just one slipup on the food safety side can hurt a brand - and even an entire category - for months or even years. Investments in technologies related to traceability and  safety alerts could be just as critical as those tied to product and packaging innovation.

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