With the release of his new book — “Outbreak: Foodborne Illness and the Struggle for Food Safety” — Timothy D. Lytton seeks to shine a light into some of the more dimly lit corners of the U.S. food system’s safety checks and balances.

Now available from Amazon.com and the University of Chicago Press, the book provides a history and analysis of the country’s food safety system. Lytton gives particular attention to business-to-business elements in the U.S. system, including private audits and liability insurance.

In the book Lytton, a University of Georgia law professor, describes food safety efforts in the United States dating back to the 1800s. He analyzes the battle against pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella, which have become familiar to consumers in recent years during deadly outbreaks and massive recalls. Lytton doesn’t suggest the fight for safe food is easy, or that it will come without a price. Rather, he explores the food safety responsibilities of consumers and businesses.

“Foodborne illness is a big problem. Wash those chicken breasts, and you’re likely to spread Salmonella to your countertops, kitchen towels, and other foods nearby,” Lytton said in his publish announcement April 19. “Even salad greens can become biohazards when toxic strains of E. coli inhabit the water used to irrigate crops. . .

“Over time, deadly foodborne illness outbreaks caused by infected milk, poison hamburgers, and tainted spinach have spurred steady scientific and technological advances in food safety. Nevertheless, problems persist.”

Lytton discusses how inadequate budgets restrict the ability of government to develop and enforce meaningful regulations. Pressure from consumers to keep prices down constrains industry investments in safety. The limits of scientific knowledge leave experts unable to assess policies’ effectiveness and whether measures designed to reduce contamination have actually improved public health.

“Outbreak” offers practical reforms that will strengthen the food safety system’s capacity to learn from its mistakes and identify cost-effective food safety efforts capable of producing measurable public health benefits, according Lytton’s publisher.

The book has earned praise from big business officials, academic researchers, and lawyers who specialize in food safety cases.

“In ‘Outbreak,’ Lytton gives us a legal scholar’s superb analysis of how government, lawyers, and civil society are struggling to prevent the tragic and unnecessary illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths caused by microbial food contaminant,” Marion Nestle said about the book. “Foodborne illness may seem like an intractable problem, but Lytton’s suggestions for dealing with it are well worth attention, as is everything else in this beautifully written, thoughtful, and readable account. I couldn’t put it down.”

Fellow academic Stephen Sugarman of the University of California-Berkeley School of Law, said “Outbreak: Foodborne Illness and the Struggle for Food Safety” said the book is a good read for consumers as well as corporate executives.

“{The book is) a remarkable sweeping overview and evaluation of food safety practices that well serves both experts working in the field and members of the general public interested in the problem of food safety. Lytton shows how major outbreaks have prompted a variety of changes to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Yet, as he argues persuasively, we don’t have firm scientific knowledge as to the degree to which—if at all—most of these measures have actually achieved their goal,” Sugarman said.

A founding member of the Seattle law firm Marler Clark LLP said Lytton’s new book covers the infield and outfield with equal ease. The law firm specializes in representing foodborne illness victims and their families.

“From swill milk to HACCP to FSMA to Blockchain, Lytton weaves a compelling biological story of how we feed ourselves and the interplay between the supply chain, regulation, media, and civil litigation,” said Bill Marler, who entered the food safety arena during the deadly 1993 E. coli outbreak that was traced to Jack in the Box hamburgers.

Lytton said his goal was to help readers understand the science, practicality, liability, enforcement and self-monitoring measures necessary to achieve higher levels of food safety. Meeting that goal includes helping readers understand the following:

  • Why government spends so much more money justifying food safety regulations than evaluating whether they actually work.
  • The need for greater experimentation in food safety regulation.
  • Improving private third-party food safety auditing through greater liability exposure for negligent auditing.
  • The potential for liability and recall insurance to improve food safety.
  • The history of third-party food safety auditing (which goes back much earlier than AIB in the 1920s).
  • The litigation dynamics of food safety lawsuits.

The author is Associate Dean for Research & Faculty Development; Distinguished University Professor; and Professor of Law at the  at the University of Georgia. To receive a 20 percent discount on Lytton’s book, use with the promo code: UCPNEW.

Editor’s note: Bill Marler is publisher of Food Safety News.

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