On November 30, 2009, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California introduced the latest in a long series of well-intentioned attempts to reform US food safety laws.
The Processed Food Safety Act of 2009 would, according to Mrs. Feinstein, ". . . require companies that process any kind of food, from ground beef to frozen pot pies, to test their finished products and their ingredients to make sure that they are safe to eat and pathogen free."
The legislation, as proposed, gives food processors two options:
- subject their products to a pathogen reduction treatment (that is, a "kill" step); or
- certify that the finished product and all of the ingredients are free from any ". . . verifiable traces of pathogens."
What's wrong with this? The Science Is Wrong!
While testing ingredients, the production environment, and each finished batch of food is a useful check on the effectiveness and safety of the day-to-day operations of a food facility, it is impossible to certify the microbiological safety of food through finished product testing.
A "negative" pathogen test result simply means that the pathogen was not found in a minuscule quantity of food (typically, 25 grams – less than an ounce), using whatever test method (good, indifferent or downright unreliable) chosen by the testing lab or its food industry client. An unscrupulous processor – such as Peanut Corporation of America – could easily opt for a "quick and dirty" pathogen test, and then certify the absence of ". . . verifiable traces of pathogens."
Even the best test method is likely to miss low-level contamination of an ingredient or finished food. The Senator's proposal – if enacted as submitted – would give consumers a false sense of security.
Senator Feinstein – Your motives are admirable, but your proposal is flawed. Please withdraw and rethink the Processed Food Safety Act of 2009.