There is no absolutely perfect system when it comes to ensuring food safety, especially in an environment where people depend foods made in centralized automated manufacturing facilities with minimum human intervention. On the other hand products turned out by small scale processors may carry a higher degree of risk to consumers because of technological and infrastructural limitations inherent with the industry. What makes the difference is how far the general population is dependent on processed foods and the effect of even minor defaults on safety front can have highly visible impact. This may be the reason why one hears about frequent market recalls on one count or the other in countries where more than 80% of consumers use processed foods in their diet with very little cooking in their kitchens. A country like the US which has fabulous surveillance infrastructure is constantly endeavoring to improve the food safety system aiming at zero tolerance. The latest monitoring tool, based on on-line reporting, seems to be working beyond the original expectation giving both the government and the consumers a sense of relief and confidence.
"Mandated by Congress, the Reportable Food Registry (the Registry) is a new system that requires manufacturers, processors, packers and distributors to immediately report to the government safety problems with food and animal feed, including pet food, that are likely to result in serious health consequences. "The FDA's new reporting system has already proven itself an invaluable tool to help prevent contaminated food from reaching the public," said FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael R. Taylor. A report summarizing the Registry's first seven months of operation (September 2009 -March 2010) finds that it logged 125 primary reports – initial reports about a safety concern with a food or animal feed (including food ingredients) – and 1,638 subsequent reports from suppliers or recipients of a food or feed for which a primary report had been submitted, from both domestic and foreign sources. These reports help FDA and the food industry locate hazardous foods in the supply chain and prevent them from reaching consumers".
"Two notable reports first identified through the Registry prompted the following: A February 2010 recall of hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), without any report of illness. More than 1,000 industry reports specifically for products containing HVP resulted in the removal of 177 products from commerce. A November 2009 recall of products containing sulfites but not labeled as such. More than 100 reports regarding the inadvertent use of an ingredient containing sulfites in two nationally distributed prepared side dishes that were not labeled as containing sulfites resulted in their removal without any reports of illness".
"Among the 125 primary reports, Salmonella accounted for 37 percent of hazards, undeclared allergens or intolerance accounted for 35 percent, and Listeria monocytogenes accounted for 13 percent. Among the 11 different commodity categories involved were: 14 animal feed or pet food, 12 seafood, 11 spices and seasonings, and 10 dairy products. Because the Registry has been operational for only a short period, it is too early to draw inferences concerning patterns of food and feed adulteration. "Industry is increasingly detecting contamination incidents through its own testing, and FDA access to this information permits us to better target our inspection resources and verify that appropriate corrective measures have been taken," Taylor said. "Ensuring that the American food supply is safe is a top priority of the FDA, and the Reportable Food Registry strengthens our ability to help prevent food-borne illness."
It is not clear as to why a manufacturer should report to the government any internal problem for which it has to find a solution internally. Also doubtful is whether any industry will be foolish to release any product considered safety compromised. Industry has always the option to stop releasing any product suspected to be of doubtful quality. Probably industry may be using the government power for recall of products found safety compromised after releasing into the market.