At Marler Clark, I have been working for nearly two decades on ways to keep consumers informed on issues of food safety. That is why I created a variety of “bug” websites, and why I created Food Safety News and the Foodborne Illness Outbreak Database.
Over the years, I have become convinced that it is ultimately the free market — consumers being aware of companies with good and bad food-safety histories and cultures, and consumers voting with their pocketbooks — that will help make food safer in the long run. Consumers want safer food and will pay more for it, but they need information to make wise choices.
Information is the key. That is why we all need to support both public health inspections and surveillance of foodborne illnesses on the local, state and national levels. And why we need to support making this information both transparent and accessible. With good and timely information, consumers will do what is in their and their families’ best interest. In the simplest form, the goal would be for consumers to opt to buy food from farmers, manufacturers and retailers who they know put food safety — and therefore their customers — first.
In an effort to help give consumers a complete, 411-like guide or directory of information, I decided to add one more portal of information by listing all the websites we could find thus far on restaurant scores. The plan is to post this list on Food Safety News in the near future. It is still a work in progress, and I would love any feedback on places we might have missed. It is clear that some states, counties and cities are more interested in inspections and more willing to put that information on the web than others, but it is a start.
In addition, consumers who believe they have been affected by foodborne illness should report the illness to public heath authorities. Most state health departments encourage consumers to report food poisoning incidents to local health departments. Already Food Safety News provides links to pages on state health department or public health association web sites where you can either directly report a foodborne illness, or where you can obtain contact information to do so.
A consumer armed with good, current information is a good customer to have for farmers, manufacturers and retailers who put food safety first.