HACCP May Protect Food Manufacturers in Product Liability, Attorney Suggests


Recommending that food manufacturers utilize a hazard analysis and critical control point plan, Barbara Rasco of Washington State University told a recent Institute of Food Technologists symposium on product liability and HACCP that HACCP plans and records will show that the manufacturer tried to protect consumers from the harmful things that might be present in food.

HACCP plans and records and the good manufacturing practice and sanitation records that go along with them are evidence of good food-handling practice and can show that plants did the best job they possibly could have done, she advised the symposium.

She reminded the group that a HACCP plan is not set in concrete and must be reviewed periodically and as there are changes in production or distribution.

"Work with regulators," advised Bruce Clark of Karr Tuttle Campbell, attorney for Foodmaker Inc. in the Jack-in-the-Box E. coli O157:H7 incident. Then, he said, if there is a problem, the regulators will be willing to stand up in court and say that there may have been a mistake, but the company "tries hard and they work with us."

Both Clark and William Marler of the law firm of Kargianis, Watkins, Marler, who represented some of the families in the Foodmaker incident and in the more recent Odwalla juice outbreak, stressed the importance of food technologists and quality assurance personnel.

For the most part, Marler said, "food safety technologists and QA people are the most important people in the community." Clark concurred, saying, "If you are not engaging a person who knows about your product and the potential hazards associated with it" and not sitting down with that person every day and asking how to be "safer than our competitors, I don't think you're doing a good job of business." If a good company is not encouraging technical people to speak up, it is "making a serious mistake," Clark declared.

Clark also stressed the importance of seeking out pertinent information, but with the caveat that if no one in the company is going to read a publication "don't allow it in the door," because in case of a problem the firm will be expected to be aware of all the information provided.

When there is a problem, Marler advised, companies should apologize, admit mistakes and become advocates of food safety, as Foodmaker and Odwalla have.

Reminding the symposium of the victims, Marler said it is up to food technologists and quality assurance personnel to protect the company from attorneys like him and to protect the children from the products that sometimes go wrong.

"Make food safety part of everything you do," Clark advised, cautioning, "If you aren't driven by safety, then you'd better rethink your approach."

COPYRIGHT 1998 CRC Press, Inc.