ROSEMONT, IL — The 25th Food Safety Summit near Chicago ended on an encouraging note with a panel of lawyers no less who from varying perspectives said food culture is not only important, but it might keep the bosses out of jail.

“Food safety culture” is a term food safety professionals have come to use in describing food companies that practice values to keep consumers from harm. Food safety culture usually exists only if it is supported by the highest levels in the company.

Matthew Lash, assistant director of the Consumer Protection Branch at the U.S. Department of Justice said during investigations, whether a company has a food safety culture is one of the first things he looks at. Lash was on the team that recently completed the prosecution of Blue Bell Creameries over the 2005 Listeria outbreak that included four deaths.

Others agreed including Shawn Stevens, National Food Industry lawyer; Sharon Lindan Mayi, partner at DLA Piper; and Maile Gradison, partner at Hogan Lovells. Bill Marler, the managing partner at The Food Safety Law Firm, based out of Seattle, said that in 30 years of representing victims of foodborne illnesses, he has never had a case where earlier preventive action could not have been taken by company owners and managers.

Marler said it is always possible to prevent “the truck from careening off the cliff” if the company is paying attention and has the right values.

Earlier Thursday, the Food Safety Summit hosted a “Townhall” meeting featuring four of the top government players in the food safety lane. Here are the takeaways from that session.

Sandra Eskin, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety, had plenty to say about salmonella and so-called Not Ready-to-Eat breaded chicken products. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is going through a rulemaking process to make salmonella an adulterant in those products. It marks the first time that salmonella is being named as an adulterant.

CDC’s Rob Tauxe said that ever since Whole Gerome Sequencing (WGS) was adopted by the agency’s laboratories in Atlanta, they’ve been able to spread it to state and local labs. Tauxe says the result is more and faster data. He said that trend is going to accelerate in the near future.

Donald A. Prater, who after Frank Yiannas left the FDA, became acting director of Food Policy and Reponse. And, according to Prater, FDA has several acting directors in place at present, awaiting the reorganization of FDA’s food-side responsibilities. After the FDA Commissioner completes the reorganization, Prater expects permanent directors will be named. He said its an exciting time to be working at FDA.

Steve Mandernach, AFDO’s chief executive, does not work for the federal government but does represent food and drug officials from the 50 states. He said the Association of Food and Drug Officials is waiting for that FDA reorganization to drop so that states can make sure budget details still line up as Congress intended. Mandernach also said AFDO has been working on retail food safety.

The Food Safety Summit, produced by BNP Media and Food Safety Magazine, is held at Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, IL, adjacent to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Next up for the food safety community is “the grand daddy of them all” the International Assocition for Food Protection (IAFP) meeting this year in Toronto in July

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