Tuesday, July 6, 2010


A sound food industry has several stake holders involving the manufacturer, the consumer and the the quality purveyor. When all the three work in tandem with mutual confidence, then only processed foods can gain the necessary confidence in terms of transparency, quality and safety. It is not uncommon to see failure of the system when adequate synergy is not established amongst these players. While industry tends to focus more on profitability, the consumers are always looking for lower prices, high quality and absolute safety of products coming from the manufacturer. It is the onerous task of the regulator to reconcile the two disparaging expectations and evolve policies, monitoring infrastructure and protocols for surveillance. Safety overseeing involves technical personnel capable of discerning what is wrong in any manufacturing system and enforce rectification of problems detected during safety assessment visits to manufacturing facilities. That there can be occupational hazards to food inspection personnel, even calling for sacrifice, is not known widely. Unscrupulous food fraudsters can go to any extent to avoid being booked for fraud is borne out by the murder of two food safety personnel in the US almost a decade ago.

"Two memorial services taking place today and Tuesday remember three food safety inspectors murdered on June 21, 2000, a shocking crime because no agricultural agent had ever been killed in the line of duty before that day, according to the Food Safety and Inspection Service. FSIS Compliance Officers Jean Hillery and Thomas Quadros, along with California Department of Food and Agriculture Senior Special Investigator Bill Shaline, were shot by Stuart Alexander, owner of a San Leandro, Calif., sausage factory, who was convicted of first-degree murder on Oct. 19, 2004".

It is a small consolation that the culprit was brought to book with in five years though the basic malaise in the system continue to pose risks to people involved in safety enforcement. Such a crime did not take place since the year 2000 is indeed another consolation. A severe restraint system that calls for extremely harsh punishment for crimes associated with food safety should not only be based on economic punishment but also imprisonment for longer periods. Of course in countries like India Food Inspectors are a happy lot as their job brings in considerable extra income in the form of bribes sought from honest players for not harassing and from dishonest ones for ignoring the violations!

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