Denis Stearns addressed the Fresh & Easy Technical Conference being held March 26 in Manhattan Beach, CA. Quality assurance, product development, and technical personnel from the company’s private-label suppliers attended the company conference.
Stearns is a founding partner of Marler Clark, the Seattle-based foodborne illness law firm at the center of the recent peanut butter-Salmonella outbreak and many other major foodborne illness outbreaks in the US. His speech addresses the history of food regulation over the centuries and modern product liability law as it relates to food.
Describing his speech, Stearns said: “I think it’s fascinating how much of what developed into product liability law got its start as a response to the problem of unsafe food injuring people. It hasn’t always been that people could sue if injured by an unsafe product.”
“Markets that take the leap from selling food products made and branded by others to selling products under their own brand have moved into changing legal territory,” said Stearns. “It’s good to see a company taking steps to make sure everyone in the chain of food production understands their responsibilities and liabilities.”
Marler Clark represents over 100 people sickened by Salmonella-tainted peanut butter and peanut products, an outbreak that has spurred a record recall of almost 3000 products by hundreds of companies.
Salmonella Typhimurium illnesses were reported as early as August 2008, but were not linked to peanut butter until January 2009. They were then traced to the PCA processing plants in Blakely, GA and Plainview, TX. The now-shuttered plants provided peanut butter and peanut paste used in many products, including cookies, crackers, candies, ice cream, nutrition bars, and dog treats. Marler Clark has filed seven lawsuits on behalf of victims of the outbreak.